City of Berkeley will host a meeting to save the Main Post Office in downtown Berkeley January 29th at 6:45 at 2133 Shattuck. The effort to save the historic landmark and services of the downtown post office has taken form not only to save the site, but to remind people that the mail is the last free communication service that goes to every house in the City.
The Postal Service is required to make a $5.5 billion payment to prepay for health care benefits for current and retired employees. Though Congress had a proposal to delay or make an extension of the payment due August 2012, they did not act on that. So the Berkeley downtown post office may be among the 13,000 post offices closed throughout the country as a consequence of this impending default. In the New York Times Ron Nixon reports that the while the House took no action, the Senate passed a measure that “provided incentives to retire about 100,000 postal workers or 18 % of its employees and allowed the post office to recoup more than $11 billion it over paid into an employee pension fund.”
In August 2012, it was reported by Thomas Lord of the Berkeley Daily Planet quotes the inspector general of the Postal Services, David C. Williams in reference to why Congress won’t take the overpayment of the pension plan and allow the House’s action to provide a solution to the problem: “The postal service has overfunded its pension fund at 105%, the law does not allow the Office of Personnel Management to alter the contribution formula for the Postal Service, nor can it refund current or future surpluses. “
The prepayment required of the postal service for current and retired employees health benefits is required by Congress, and speculation about why and how that came to be is worth considering, many feel. For Jim Hightower, it is not just that there has been a reduction in postal service profits in a reported 20% six year decline in mail volume – a considerable factor of a Postal Service revenue loss of $14.1 billion in a 6 year period. These losses are attributed to people and businesses using on line bill pay and email and websites and other electronic devices. But for Hightower, the loss of 32,000 local post offices available to all people and all neighborhoods, rich or poor is more important than the numbers or the profit/loss statements. He claims that in the past four years, the postal service has made a $700 million operational profit. Further, 6 days a week, letter carriers take 563 million pieces of mail into all communities reaching homes and workplace-wealthy penthouses, inner ghetto or rural at the cost of 45 cents/piece of mail. Doing away with the post offices is a severe blow to democracy in his opinion and not good for our country. He blames the “blogosphere, assorted corporate groups and the congressional right wingers and a lazy media” for the sabotage of this postal service.
Hightower considers the prepay that came out of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act in 2006 from the Bush White House and Congress as the source of the problem. “More than a bunch of buildings, the post office is a community center and for many towns, a source of local identity.”
Such is the case for Berkeley and the protesters and city council have taken strong positions about the closure of the stately Main Downtown post office as it is called. It is a building with marble floors, dark hardwood and brass fixtures that give a sense of the majestic authority it has held in Berkeley. There is a deference to the value of the importance of the services it provides to the community it represents. There is no question that by eliminating this post office at the center of Berkeley accessible by BART, bus and blocks from UC Berkeley, there will be a loss to the community. Not everyone has computers, so it is harshly discriminating to eliminate this source of connection by many who rely on the post office. Of course, this is not a Berkeley problem, but a national one affecting many.
It has been pointed out by many that the timing of this default is short sighted of the Congress. By not giving a deferment this past weekend when that possibility was broached, the post office cannot gain benefit from the mass mailings to all people everywhere in the national election for President over the next months. Ron Nixon in his New York Times article reported that “Postal Service inspector general, Williams, having reviewed the post office’s financial statements confirmed its projected cash shortages last week in a memorandum to the postmaster general, Patrick A. Donahoe. The memorandum noted that if the post office does not receive the projected $300 million windfall from political mailings before the elections on November 6th, the cash crisis will worsen.”
Contact to Congress is encouraged, particularly Eric Cantor (R-VA) who has “announced that a Senate bill to let the Post Office get is house in order lacks enough support to pass in the house.” Delaying the payment or allowing for three payments have been suggested and demand consideration. But for the people of Berkeley gathering on Tuesday, the 29th of January, community action has the desired outcome of stopping the process that will take away the stately Main Post Office.