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Tampa-area postal service workers say public needs to get involved or mail services will go away

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A handful of members with the U.S. Postal Service held signs and demonstrated in front of a downtown Tampa post office on Thursday afternoon, calling attention to conditions affecting employees and the public a week before the American Postal Workers Union‘s (APWU) contract with the Postal Service is set to expire on May 20.

Among its demands, the union is calling for extended hours at post offices to shorten customers’ wait time in line and an end to the closure of mail sorting centers.

The postal workers also have concerns about privatization of such services.

“How’d you like for somebody to handle your mail who makes $8 an hour,  and there’s a check in there for $1,000 and you don’t know who’s handling your mail?” former postal service worker David Bernstein asked, referring to jobs being outsourced to places like Staples and Walmart, working part time where postal workers’ jobs can be done for less by employees making minimum wage. “That’s a bad situation.”

The Postal Service has been losing money for years, but the vast majority of those losses stem from a mandate imposed by Congress in 2006, which requires the Postal Service to prepay retiree healthcare benefits for 75 years into the future.

“We’re the only semi-private government agency that has to pay that money,” complains Bernstein. ” We’re the only company that I know of in the US that has to do that so far in advance.”

Members of the APWU say it’s time for congressional action to right the situation.

“We’ve got people who want to treat this as a business, and bust it up for Wall Street, and I can promise you that the prices that you currently have with the U.S. Postal Service will pale in the future if this is allowed to happen,” says Don Barron, executive vice president with Tampa American Postal Workers Union 259

Since 2012, 140 mail processing centers in the U.S. have closed, and 82 are considered for closure in 2015, including the post office at Dale Mabry and Ehrlich in Tampa, according to Barron. Union officials say no fewer than three post office locations in the downtown have closed in recent years (including one on Florida Avenue just up from the Tampa Marriott Waterside).

“I’m standing with the the postal workers,” proclaimed Norwood Orrick, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 824 in Tampa. “The postal service actually is a very profitable operation if you take away the fiscal constraints and certainly can afford to pay their workers a good decent wage and keep them in the middle class.”

Postal Service workers reached a peak of 909,000 in early 1999, according to the Labor Department. Members of the APWU says their work force has now dropped to 450,000 with obviously more reductions coming with the planned post offices scheduled to be closed down later this year.

“We have to concentrate on making sure that people get the service that they deserve,” says Barron. “Not to continue to reducing it to the point where people are looking for other places to go.”

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.

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