Art

Post Office to Venice: “No Hearing”

By Greta Cobar and Jim Smith

A letter has arrived from an official of the U.S. Postal Service in Washington telling us that the Venice Post Office will be vacating its historic building, and that’s final!

A community meeting will be held at 7pm, Oct. 9 at SPARC, 685 Venice Blvd. to decide our next move. A film, Brush with Life, about Edward Biberman, the artist of the mural inside the post office will also be shown. See back page for details.

Opposition to the closing of the historic post office has united Venice across the political spectrum from the Free Venice Beachhead, Venice Neighborhood Council, Venice Peace and Freedom, Venice Stakeholders Association, Venice Town Council and hundreds of individuals.

In his “final decision” letter, David Williams, USPS Vice President, Network Operations, disregarded all of the community’s concerns. The letter is posted on the Beachhead’s website – http://www.freevenice.org.

In his letter, Williams calls the move a relocation of customer services to the carrier annex instead of a closing. Residents affected by a closing are entitled to a hearing, but a mere relocation does not need one.

The concerns of Venetians, as expressed in letters to the USPS, which Williams mentions and then disposes, include: historic considerations, the impact on the surrounding environment, “specifically traffic and parking impacts within a coastal zone and in the residential neighborhood around the Venice Carrier Annex.”

Williams notes that the Venice Main Post Office was constructed in 1939 and is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. He doesn’t mention that it currently has no historic protection. He mentions that the “Story of Venice” mural “is currently on display in the lobby,” as if it is part of a temporary exhibit. He neglects to say it has been a permanent part of the post office since 1942.

Part of the USPS strategy has been to separate the removal of retail services from the building from the action to sell the property. Williams apparently feels this will allow the USPS to skate past the requirements in the National Historic Preservation Act (Williams thinks our efforts for secession have been successful. He says the City of Venice will be a consulting party!).

He also disregards issues of traffic and parking, saying the retail services will only be relocated 400 feet (anyone have a tape measure?). He says the Annex can accommodate retail counters and Post Office boxes without expansion of the building (employees say it will take major remodeling at the least). He says there will be no rerouting of traffic as a result of the relocation (wrong!). He further states that there is ample parking on the lot for customers (only if employees park on the street).

In his closing remarks, Williams hits the USPS talking points of declining mail volume and the financial condition of the Postal Service to excuse the damage he is doing to our community.

As a parting shot, he states: “This is the final decision of the Postal Service…and there is no right to further administrative or judicial review of this decision.” We shall see.

Part of a nationwide attack on the post office

The Venice Post office is just one of 3,700 post offices and 300 processing centers set to close by 2015. This is part of US Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s plan to prevent the USPS from going into default, possibility that postal workers and their unions have called a “manufactured crisis.”

The prospects of a default were raised when the USPS informed Congress that it can’t pay the $5.5 billion to a federal retiree health fund due September 30. The Postal Accountability Enhancement Act (PAEA) was passed by Congress in 2006, requiring the USPS to pre-fund 75 years of future retiree health benefits over a ten-year span. Every September 30, the USPS has had to write a check from its operating funds for $5.5 billion to the US Treasury to fund the retirement packages of people who haven’t even been born yet. There’s no other federal agency or private enterprise in the US that’s forced to pre-fund benefits like this.

“The Postal Service and its employees don’t want a bailout,” the unions write on a joint website. “What we want is the freedom to use our own surplus pension funds to pay down the pre-funding obligation.” Indeed, The Postal Service’s Office of Inspector General determined that the Postal Service overpaid $75 billion into its pension fund – money labor and management agree should be allowed to be redirected to pay the healthcare obligation. The Postal Regulatory Commission, an independent agency, commissioned its own independent audit and found the overpayment to be $50 billion.

Donahoe, on the other hand, went before Congress at the beginning of September and offered to the Republicans nullifying part of the union’s contract, eliminating layoff protection, in order to be able to lay off 120,000 workers. He also asked Congress to allow the Post Office to terminate Saturday mail delivery service. During the last four years the postal service workforce has already been reduced by more than 100,000 employees through attrition.

In other words Donahoe is fulfilling Republicans’ demand to lay off 100,000 workers now so that pensions are funded for the next 75 years. And instead of demanding that the $75 billion overpaid into the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) be transferred to the healthcare fund, he just barely mentioned that “we’ve overpaid one of our retirement funds by $6.9 billion,” referring to the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS)

Chuck Zlatkin, political director of the New York Metro Area Postal Union, stated that Donahoe “is either a well-meaning incompetent or a duplicitous front man for the people who want to privatize the postal service.” Zlatkin emphasized the importance of the unions in battling the efforts to privatize the post office. According to him, USPS is now paying 600,000 workers a living wage, benefits and retirement packages. If the union is eliminated, workers at will could be brought in for an hourly wage with no benefits. That money would then go not to the American people, but for profit. Zlatkin said that “this is another situation where working class people and poor are being asked to suffer and sacrifice to benefit the rich.” Any layoffs within the USPS would be particularly damaging for the groups that disproportionately get hired at the post office: African Americans and military veterans. Zlatkin stated that his local union chapter is putting out a press release to call for Donahoe’s resignation or termination.

The USPS is currently the strongest union in the country and the second largest employer (Wal-Mart is the largest). According to Philip Rubio, North Carolina A & T State University professor, the USPS is “at the hub of a $1.3 trillion mail industry,” which increases the damage to the overall economy if mail service is limited or compromised. What really is at play here is the contest over what is going to be happening for election in 2012: the higher the unemployment, the worst shape the economy is in, the less chances Obama has for a re-election.

Politicians must act to avoid demise of postal service

Obama himself, probably relying on analysis by high-ranking Postal Service employees such as Donahoe, failed to address the $75 billion the USPS overpaid CSRS during his September 19 deficit reduction proposal. He only mentioned that the $6.9 billion overpaid into FERS should be refunded and went on to say that he supports allowing the USPS to stop delivering mail on Saturdays. Although Zlatkin’s labor union was the second union to endorse Obama, according to Zlatkin “he hasn’t been a good friend to the postal workers or the people they work for.”

Currently two bills have been introduced into the House of Representatives. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) is sponsoring H.R. 1351, the United States Postal Service Pension Obligation Recalculation and Restoration Act of 2011, which calls for the Office of Personal Management to come up with the actual figure of overpayment and then apply that sum to the prepayment of health expenses. On the other side of the issue is the bill sponsored by Darrell Issa (R-CA), which would require postal workers to pay more towards retirement, would allow the USPS to end Saturday deliveries, sell advertising space at post offices and phase out most residential door-to-door deliveries in four years.

Unless the logical solution of taking money out of one fund and putting it into another fund is implemented, universal postal service will be doomed even though it is one of the oldest, most reliable services in the country. The people most affected, not surprisingly, will be the poor, elderly, disabled and small business owners. Small-town offices are on the chopping block more than those in the big cities, and small-town jobs will be eliminated with them. Residents have expressed concerns of losing their town’s identity once the local post office is gone.

Gray Brechin, project scholar at the Living New Deal Project at UC Berkley’s Department of Geography, who has written extensively about the history of the post office, says that it is a manufactured crisis. “This is about dismantling the Postal Service, getting rid of unions, privatization, and selling post office buildings to developers.”

Here in Venice we now have to consider legal action, more pressure on political leaders and direct action or a 70-year-old landmark and center of our community will be in danger of vanishing.

Join your neighbors at a community meeting to consider our alternatives. See back page.

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