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Postal workers rally to oppose layoffs, service cuts

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor speaks with some of the 40 retired and current postal workers  outside her Tampa office Tuesday after a rally against the closing of U.S. post offices. Castor co-sponsored legislation that supports future health care benefit payments.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor speaks with some of the 40 retired and current postal workers outside her Tampa office Tuesday after a rally against the closing of U.S. post offices. Castor co-sponsored legislation that supports future health care benefit payments.

BROOKSVILLE — Danny Martinez has sent letters, even e-mails, to U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent.

On Tuesday, the 55-year-old letter carrier tried to deliver his message in person at Nugent's district office in Brooksville, joining current and retired U.S. Postal Service workers who rallied in front of lawmakers' offices in Tampa Bay and across the country.

"I'm out here today because I want to see the Postal Service thrive," Martinez said as he stood at the edge of Spring Hill Drive, one of about 80 people waving signs with the slogans "Save Our Postal Service" and "I don't want to see it go under."

Four postal workers unions rallied to urge House members to support two bills meant to get the Postal Service on firmer financial footing and avoid mass layoffs, post office closings and cuts to the current six-day service.

House Resolution 1351 would address what postal workers say is the main reason their employer is struggling with a roughly $19 billion deficit.

In 2006, Congress passed a measure requiring the Postal Service to set aside money to pay future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years — and the account needs to be fully funded by 2016. That put the Postal Service on the hook for a decade's worth of $5 billion annual payments. None of that money can be used to pay for current retiree health benefits.

Meanwhile, audits by the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General and the Postal Regulatory Commission have confirmed that the Postal Service has been overpaying into worker pension funds, placing the figure at between $50 billion and $75 billion. HR 1351 would allow the Postal Service to use this money to fund the future health account and pay other obligations.

The second measure, HR 137, supports the continuation of the six-day delivery, which postal workers say is vital to businesses and low-income and elderly residents.

Eliminating Saturday service would also put tens of thousands of Americans in the unemployment line, said Anthony Santilli, 54, a mail carrier for 31 years who joined more than 40 demonstrators at the Tampa office of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor.

"The Postal Service is an American institution," Santilli said. "You get rid of institutions, what's next? Baseball?"

Norma Fucito, 55, was one of about 75 people lined up outside U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis' office on U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor. An assistant clerk craft director who has worked in the Lutz post office for 15 years, Fucito worries that center might one day be among those targeted for closing.

"E-mail has cut in to what we do, but there are still important papers that get sent through mail, and there are still many people in the U.S. who do not have Internet access easily,'' she said. "I know some people see privatizing the post office, but I don't know many who want to spend about $7 to FedEx a letter."

All options should be on the table, Nugent told the Times on Tuesday. That includes legislation proposed by Reps. Darrell Issa of California and Dennis Ross of Florida that would create a commission to oversee a major restructuring of the Postal Service to include reduction of six-day delivery and post office closures.

In an e-mailed statement, Bilirakis did not specifically address the two measures, but said "structural changes" to the Postal Service are needed.

"I am listening to and working with all parties to help protect jobs while ensuring that our nation's mail service goes uninterrupted," Bilirakis said.

U.S. Rep. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, didn't respond to a request for comment.

Castor is a co-sponsor of HR 1351 and also supports the preservation of Saturday service. She called the prefunding requirement a "train wreck" that no other business or government agency has to bear.

Postal workers rally to oppose layoffs, service cuts 09/27/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 10:17pm]
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