By Judith Scherr
Berkeley’s historic downtown post office is for sale. Across the country, the cash-strapped United States Postal Service is selling property, slashing postal hours, consolidating sorting centers, attempting to outsource jobs and, on Wednesday, announced plans to stop Saturday mail delivery.
Dave Welsh, retired letter carrier, Berkeley resident and Community and Postal Workers United member, is among those across the country fighting back.
“Our position is they have no right to sell anything,” Welsh said. “The post office is the people’s property.”
But USPS has lost billions of dollars, and downsizing can stop the bleeding, said Postmaster General Pat Donahoe.
The most evident cause of USPS’ financial woes is the growth of electronic mail and accompanying decrease in “snail” mail. Less known is a 2006 law requiring USPS to prepay 75 years of retiree health benefits over 10 years. That costs about $5.5 billion annually. And, USPS has overpaid billions of dollars into pension funds.
However, without Congressional approval, the post office can’t adjust rates or add services such as banking or leasing excess space.
Downsizing also means the loss of middle class jobs. The National Association of Letter Carriers estimates that cutting mail delivery from six to five days will cost 25,000 jobs.
In the Bay Area, the American Postal Workers AFL-CIO is in court fighting USPS attempts to outsource 800 postal trucking jobs.
Post office job loss is especially critical within the African American community. About 21 percent of postal employees are Black, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Reacting to impending cuts in Saturday delivery, Rep. Barbara Lee issued a statement Thursday: “Ending Saturday mail service would immediately cut jobs for as much as one sixth of the USPS work force, and as our economy recovers from the recession, it is especially important that we keep these quality jobs intact. These job losses would also disproportionally impact communities of color. For years, being a letter carrier has been a critical pathway into the middle class for African Americans, including my grandfather, who was a proud USPS letter carrier for 35 years.”
Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist at the University of California Berkeley Labor Center, further noted, “What’s frustrating is, when people look at the well-being of the Black community, and they look at outcomes in terms of crime and the larger issue of poverty, what people fail to do is look at what’s done to destroy those pillars of success.”
Reducing services could lead to privatization, “paving the way for Fed Ex and UPS to dominate the business,” said Gray Brechin, a UC Berkeley geography professor active in saving the Berkeley post office. Brechin noted that USPS has hired the powerful real estate group Caldwell Banker Richard Ellis to sell postal properties. CBRE Chair Richard Blum is Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s husband.
“The post office is selling our property at mark-down prices to people who are then ‘flipping’ them for large profit,” Brechin said.
After a large protest at one San Francisco post office in June, USPS took four San Francisco post offices off the market. Berkeley resident Ying Lee encouraged people to fight the Berkeley post office sale.
“We want to cause as much community opposition to even the idea of selling the place so that no private developer will dream of developing it because they’d have a riot on their hands,” Lee said.
A city council committee on the post office meets Feb. 12, 6 p.m. at the Maudelle Shirek building, 2134 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Berkeley. Postal officials meet with the community Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m. at the Maudelle Shirek Building.