Tampa postal workers brace for looming cuts

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U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced on Friday that he’s stepping down from his position after a tumultuous four years, beginning next February.

Hours later, about a dozen postal service workers stood outside the post office’s station at Tampa International Airport distributing fliers to customers, educating them about a pending service cut slated for early 2015 that will definitely slow down some forms of mail.

“We’re trying to let the public know that the postal service is going to slow their mail down,” explained Mike Searle, president of Tampa Area Local 259 Postal Service Union. “They’re not going to get their items within the same city or sister cities that normally get mail overnight. That’s virtually gone. Medications, things people depend on to be mailed fast, it’s just not going to happen anymore.”

On January 5, the USPS is slated to lower service standards to virtually eliminate overnight delivery — including first-class mail from one address to another in the same city or town. It also is scheduled to close down or consolidate 82 mail processing centers.

The post office at Tampa International Airport will not be one of those on the cutting block, but it’s already been downsized, as it now operates only until 11 p.m. nightly after previously serving 24/7 before budget cuts necessitated a reduction of operating hours in 2007.

The USPS has lost more than $28 billion since the start of fiscal 2011. The federal agency has been in financial arrears for years now, and it’s not attributable simply to the fact that email and texting has obviated the need for “snail mail.” In fact, some of those who gathered on Friday (as was the case in over 100 other cities in a “national day of action”) said that the Internet has helped as much as it has hurt in recent years.

“People are shopping now on the Internet,” acknowledged Nick Mosezar, president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union in Orlando. “Somebody’s got to stop that. We’re embracing that. And we’re trying to capture that mail and we’re seeing a turnaround of our company.”

Mosezar and other officials are bitter about what they say is the source of the USPS’ financial woes: the 2006 mandate imposed on them by Congress that legally requires them to pre-fund health benefits for future retirees at a cost of around $5.5 billion a year – something that no other private or public agency has been compelled to commit to. “If they changed that law, took that away, or even still wanted to extend it and do a different payment (schedule), we would be able to show a profit,” said Mosezar. “And we are showing a profit as far as volume. The numbers that show us we’re losing (money) is based off of that retirement mandate.”

A couple of years Postmaster General Donahoe threatened to curtail Saturday service as a way to save money, but Congress intervened.

But further cuts are pending, such as getting rid of door-to-door delivery in some neighborhoods. Last year the USPS  announced that they would be pushing so-called “cluster boxes” on new developments.

“That’s huge,” says Ron Nordyke, whose been handling mail on and off trucks at the airport’s postal facility for the past nine years. “They want to put gigantic P.O. Boxes at the beginning of your neighborhood where they’re going to put your mail in so that’s how you’re going to receive your mail, so we’re trying to keep all of that from happening.”

Popping up to show his support at the demonstration was Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez, who says the postal service remains the most efficient and effective way to deliver any package in the country. He also says he doesn’t have much time for those who say that the country should stop funding the agency and allow it to compete with private companies like Federal Express. “If we want to make everything privatized, everything is going to cost more. To me that’s not fair to the consumers in the city.”

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.