Carriers deliver message

Rally supports bill employees say could end USPS financial crisis

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JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Jim Mathey, a U.S. Postal Service carrier, walks along Ironwood Drive with a sign supporting the need for six day a week postal service during a rally Tuesday outside of Congressman Raœl R. Labrador's office in Coeur d'Alene.

COEUR d'ALENE - For 41 years, Jim Mathey has been a carrier with the Postal Service.

His route these days covers the east side of Coeur d'Alene. It is, he explains, good, solid work.

"I love my job," he said. "That's why I'm still doing it after all these years."

But his livelihood is under fire, so Mathey on Tuesday joined about 20 other carriers in a rally on Ironwood Drive, outside the office of Congressman Raul Labrador.

They passed out fliers and held signs and wore shirts that read, "We deliver 6 days a week," "Save America's Postal Service," "Tell the Hill to pass the bill," and "6 Days is the right way."

Occasionally, a passing driver honked, prompting the carriers to wave their signs and shout "thank you" on a cool, cloudy afternoon.

Mathey said a proposal to close thousands of post offices, end Saturday mail delivery and lay off 120,000 employees is a mistake.

"What they're doing is they're taking the wrong approach," he said. "Cutting services is not the way to save a business. You've got to provide the service, or people are going to leave you."

The Postal Service, which is projected to lose up to $10 billion this fiscal year, held rallies across the country Tuesday to seek support of H.R. 1351. The legislation would allow the Postal Service to apply billions of dollars in pension overpayments to meet its financial obligations.

Ron Farnsworth, president of National Association of Letter Carriers union 1260, handed out a flier that read, "The Postal Service is in danger of financial collapse - but not for the reasons you might think."

He said that USPS is required by law to pay a 75-year liability in 10 years to "pre-fund" health care benefits for future retirees. The congressional mandate costs USPS more than $5 billion a year "and is the cause of the Postal Service's financial crisis," Farnsworth said.

No other corporation or government agency is required to make such prepayments, he said.

"Our position is that the entire deficit the entire post office is running right now is directly related to the 5-point something billion dollars they've had to prepay into retirement health benefits," he said.

"We truly believe that if it wasn't for this onerous burden that we had, the post office would be in the black," he added.

The White House recently unveiled plans it says could save USPS $20 billion in the next decade. Those plans include closing post offices and mail processing sites, stopping Saturday mail deliveries, eliminating more than 100,000 jobs and changing how worker retirement and health benefits are paid.

Farnsworth isn't a fan.

"We're asking the public to help us save the post office from the things that are being proposed by Congress," he said.

He said rural residents depend on Saturday delivery. Many need it for medication and checks that come via mail. Home business owners count on it.

He said one goal with the rally was to help people understand why the Postal Service is so far in the red, and to know that there is a solution.

"We're not asking for a bailout, we're not asking for money from the public at all. We're just asking for their support in getting their congressman to pass this law," he said.

Sue Bethard, 18-year Coeur d'Alene mail carrier, said ending Saturday delivery would mean lost jobs.

"That's a biggie," she said. "Our nation is at enough of a crisis without adding thousands of more people to unemployment rolls."

Bethard said many people believe the Postal Service is tax-funded. It's not.

"All of our operating money comes from sale of services," she said. "When you go buy your 44 cent stamp, that's helping run the post office. No tax dollars come to us."

Tony LeBlanc, a 20-year letter carrier in Coeur d'Alene, said the Postal Service can balance its budget "without all these drastic changes."

He doesn't want to see jobs and services slashed.

"It's a good job, it really is," he said. "I just want to keep doing it."

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