David Yao, vice president of the local American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and former Ballard post office employee, David Burnes from Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, and Rosemary Donaghue, retired Greenwood postal employee at a rally in downtown Seattle on June 28 to raise awareness of Congress starving the U.S. Postal Service.
Local postal workers strike to save Postal Service
On June 25, 2012, David Yao, vice president of the local American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and former Ballard post office employee, skipped breakfast and started his four-day tour around Washington state. During those four days Yao skipped all his meals as a metaphor for Congress starving the American Postal Service.
Yao's hungerstrike was in solidarity with his fellow postal worker unionists in Washington, D.C. and other locations throughout the nation.
Locally, Yao was joined by Clint Burelson from Olympia, and Anthony Foster from Tacoma, and the trio toured around the state, hosting rallies to inform people that Congress is to blame for the downward spiral the Postal Service has found itself in.
"We're hoping to making the public aware that Congress is to blame for what is happening to the Postal Service," Yao said.
Specifically, the activists say a 2006 mandate requiring the Postal Service to prefund retiree health benefits in amounts approximating $5.5 billion is the direct cause for the many closures and service cuts the Postal Service has had to make.
"Congress pumping money from the Postal Service into the Federal Treasury has been the difference between doing OK and where we are now," said Yao.
Under current law, the Postal Service is scheduled to continue to make $5.5 to $5.8 billion in payments up until 2016.
In September of last year, Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe told a Senate subcommittee that despite significant cost cutting and revenue generation, the Postal Service continues to find itself in dire financial straits, and could not meet the payments.
To make ends meet the Postal Service continued to close or consolidate post offices around the country and cut services and hours.
This past May, Donahoe announced he would begin closing half the mail sorting plants in the country, which would delay most first-class mail delivery. He also announced plans to cut hours in half the nation’s post offices, mostly in rural areas.
Starting July 1, 2012, next-day delivery of first-class mail will be reduced to mailings within local distribution areas; and as of February 1, 2013, next-day first class mail will be completely eliminated for the mailing public, unless Congress releases sufficient postal funds.
"We have all seen stories in news about service and hour cuts but it's important for people to know who is to blame and that is the 2006 law and Congress' failure to reverse it," said Yao. "We are a service industry company. Responding to financial hardship by cutting services is just a bad business model."
"We're suppose to be a public service but these cuts in hours and services inconveniences small businesses and the public," Yao continued. "It discourages people from using us. People depend on us for receiving their medication, getting their paychecks on time, etc."
At the time the BNT talked with Yao, he had been going over 50 hours without food.
"I'm kind of light-headed and my brain is not working as it should be but I'm not hungry," Yao said, explaining that he had been fueling himself with water, soy milk and juice. "I'm about 150 pounds so I don't have a whole lot or preserves."
Yao's Postal Service career started in Detroit in 1986.
"I was unemployed and I had an aunt that worked for the Postal Service so I took the test," he recalled. "I was also a stamp collecting fanatic as a kid so maybe that had something to do with [me."
Yao joined the APWU almost immediately.
"A big part behind the union is bringing justice to the workplace, and I think that's important," he said.
"The union represents the workers and we try to give them a voice at work. We also represent the interests of the public."
Yao has been active in the union for many years, becoming "one of the most prominent spokespersons for the postal workers," according to Donna Marshall, a worker at the Ballard Carrier Annex and union stewart said.
Yao said he had been part of the group of union leaders brainstorming via teleconference to find a way to "redirect attention on who's to blame" when he came up with the idea of a hunger strike.
"It's the perfect metaphor for Congress starving the Postal Service, and a good way to bring public attention
to this injustice," he said.
Yao said he fears that more and more people will use private mailing companies and that the full privatization of the market will lead to higher prices and worse service.
Ballard has not been unaffected by the cuts the Postal Service has had to make. The Ballard Carrier Annex was merged with the Queen Anne location in September of last year and now services three zones: two in Ballard and one in Queen Anne.
"But many customers do not realize how these consolidations, closures, and service changes affect them," employee Donna Marshall said. "Changes to the Postal Service affect tens of thousands of jobs as well as the public who depends on the service. The end of next-day delivery will affect a lot of the small businesses in our area as well as the elderly who depend on the Postal Service to receive their medications, and the fishermen who need their paychecks."
Marshall has been with the Postal Service in a number of capacities since 1982, and moved from Los Angeles, Ca. to Seattle in 1991. She has been working full-time at the Queen Anne and Ballard locations since 1998.
"I see many customers that come in and they are just not happy with the limited service," she said. "The 2006 mandate is the worst change they could have imposed on the American Public."
Marshall said that thanks to her seniority, she does not necessarily fear losing her job.
"I don't fear having a job but more my preference of job. With over twenty years as a postal employee I'll continue to have a job but I don't know where, how many hours, or with what kind of benefits," she said.
"What I fear most is the closure of the Postal Service altogether, and I don't think we are ready to kiss the mailman goodbye."