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Local postal workers protest proposed elimination of Saturday mail delivery

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 12, 2010 - Several dozen area postal workers spent part of their lunch hour today picketing in front of the downtown's main post office, to protest the U.S. Postal Service's proposal to stop Saturday mail delivery by next year.

"Six days, OK! Five days, no way!" shouted the marchers as they sought to underscore their opposition.

Tony Harris, president of the St. Louis Gateway District Area local of the American Postal Workers Union, said the protest was part of an informational campaign to "make sure the public is aware of how detrimental (eliminating Saturday deliveries) would be to them."

During holidays, for example, no Saturday service -- coupled with the lack of deliveries on the Monday designated for the federal observance -- would mean no mail delivery from Friday until the next Tuesday, Harris said.

The union’s basic message is that eliminating Saturday delivery could "initiate a ‘death spiral’ for the nation's mail system," especially in small communities and rural areas deemed unprofitable for private delivery businesses.  Eliminating one day of delivery will embolden the postal service and free-market advocates to press for cutting out more delivery days, the union and its allies say.

Harris said the union and the postal service have a no-layoff agreement, so that jobs aren’t a key part of the argument in the debate over Saturday service.

The union also claims that reports of the U.S. Postal Service’s fiscal problems also are inaccurate and tied to the 2006 congressional act that requires the service to "pre-fund" future retiree health-care costs. No other government agency is required to do so, he said.

The result is that the service "begins every fiscal year more than $5 billion in debt." Without the pre-funding, the postal service actually has reported a $3.7 billion profit over the past three years, the union says.

State Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, backed up several picketers who asserted that the real object of the effort to drop Saturday deliveries is to cede such service to private delivery firms, who would handle the weekend deliveries that some businesses need.

Roorda, who showed up for the rally, contended that small businesses would suffer, as well as average people. "When that (Saturday delivery) void is filled by private enterprise, it will be more expensive and less dependable,’’ he said.

Union leader Harris emphasized that the debate is nonpartisan. He credits U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, with collecting 225 sponsors (just over half the House’s 435 members) on a resolution in favor of maintaining Saturday deliveries.

Only three other Missouri members of Congress have signed on: Reps. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis; Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City; and Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau.

Graves’ resolution is the chief reason why the postal service’s official request to Congress to allow it to drop Saturday deliveries hasn’t gone anywhere, as yet, Harris said.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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