By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun
8:03 PM EDT, September 27, 2011
With rain coming down Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings picked up a bullhorn and looked toward more than 100 people protesting proposed U.S. Postal Service cutbacks in Catonsville.
"I refuse to take you for granted," he told the cheering crowd, several of whom were shouting into their own bullhorns. "They keep squeezing and squeezing and squeezing. At some point, you get squeezed to death."
Like those on Frederick Road in Catonsville, postal workers across the country took to the streets Tuesday to protest proposed layoffs and closures, including the shuttering of 41 offices in Maryland and eight in Baltimore. Union officials said they held rallies at every congressional district in the nation.
The jobs of nearly 1,000 workers in Maryland are in jeopardy, officials said.
At the rally, John Kearney, a letter carrier at the Windsor Mill post office, said it was too early to know exactly who would lose their jobs. "A lot of the younger carriers could be in danger," he said.
Thomasine Derricks, president of the American Postal Workers Union in Baltimore, said: "We are under attack."
Nationally, the U.S. Postal Service is considering closing 3,700 offices and laying off more than 120,000 workers to overcome an $8 billion budget shortfall. But union members argue that the Postal Service is fiscally solvent. They say a 2006 congressional mandate to fund pensions 75 years into the future is the drag on the budget, and they want to use that money to retain current jobs.
"We're making money, but it's being diverted to the fund," said Mike Smith, financial secretary for the Metropolitan Baltimore CouncilAFL-CIO.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has asked Congress for legislation to eliminate the requirement that the Postal Service make $5.5 billion annual payments to pre-fund retirement health benefits. He said such a bill could prevent the large-scale layoffs currently proposed.
Cummings is one of more than 200 co-sponsors of legislation to allow the U.S. Postal Service to do just that. He has also proposed his own bill, which he said would allow the postal service to enter into new business, such as check cashing.
While acknowledging the need for "some downsizing," Cummings told protesters Tuesday, "I do not want a single employee to be laid off."
That caused the crowd to break into chants: "Rain or shine! Sleet or snow! Postal workers are on the go!"
Cummings was joined by two other Democrats, U.S. Reps. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John Sarbanes, both of whom have signed on to legislation to stop the layoffs.
"The right thing is jobs, creating jobs and saving jobs," Sarbanes said. He added that the funding of future pensions "doesn't make any kind of sense."
"It's an unfair burden placed on them," he said of the mandate on the postal service. "Basically, it's an organization that is working pretty well."
Four Maryland processing plants — in Cumberland, Easton, Gaithersberg and Waldorf — also are on the chopping block for the coming fiscal year.
In the past four fiscal years, the Postal Service has reduced costs by more than $12 billion and its workforce by 110,000 employees, Donahoe said in a statement. "As impressive as these reductions have been, we must significantly accelerate the pace of cost reduction in the next four years," said Donahoe.
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