Postal Service Activists Begin Hunger Strike To Protest Closures And Layoffs Caused By Congress

Ten current and former employees of the United States Postal Service (USPS) today launched a multi-day hunger strike to protest branch closures and layoffs that are supposedly meant to address the service’s shortfalls. At the center of the protest is a law passed by Congress that is responsible for the Postal Service’s ongoing budget problems.

The USPS will start closing 48 mail processing plants in July, and by the time current plans are completed in 2014, it will have closed or consolidated 229 plants, eliminating 28,00 jobs in the process. Those cuts likely wouldn’t have to take place, however, if Congress reversed a law it passed in 2006 mandating that the USPS prefund its pension benefits for 75 years, costing the postal service billions of dollars a year, as CNN Money notes:

They also want Congress to eliminate a mandate that has been a major financial drag on the service — annual $5.5 billion payments to prefund health care benefits for future retirees. The strikers say say eliminating the mandate would solve the Postal Service’s financial problems.

“That payment is causing great hardship to the Postal Service,” said Nannette Corley, a Maryland mail clerk for the past 19 years who is taking unpaid leave to join the hunger strike. “We are the people. What is it that Congress wants us to do? Starve and make everybody homeless?”

Under the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA), which was passed by a Republican-led Congress in 2006, the Postal Service is forced to prefund its retiree pension and health programs for the next 75 years in just a 10-year window. That’s a requirement that doesn’t exist for any other government agency or private corporation, and without it, USPS would actually face a $1.5 billion surplus instead of a $20 billion shortfall.

Massachusetts Rep. Steven Lynch (D) introduced bipartisan legislation in April 2011 that would allow USPS to pay down its debts instead of prefunding the pension plan, but it never even saw a vote in committee.