By Anna Staver
Federal and state lawmakers gathered with about 30 people on the steps of Oregon's Statehouse to share their plans for overhauling the Postal Service in an attempt to save processing plants like the one in South Salem from closure.
Salem is one of four processing and distribution facilities in Oregon set to close this year as part of the Postal Service's plan to rein in costs. The retail portion of Salem's office will remain open, but Salem-to-Salem mail will be routed to Portland for sorting starting in June.
Officials have promised that the plant's closure will be done without job loss. Patty Olson, legislative director for American Postal Workers Union in Portland, called the statement is a partial truth.
"When you ask somebody that is going to lose their job in Salem to sell their house, move their family, remove their kids from school, maybe their wife or husband would have to leave their job or commute to Portland; it's very difficult for them," Olson said. "They're not firing them or laying them off, but are they able to continue employment with the postal service if they don't have a job in Salem?"
She said the union met with Salem plant officials this morning, and early reports from her colleagues suggested fewer jobs will be available in Salem for the plant workers than the union had hoped for.
Processing plants around the county have suffered from 25 to 30 percent decline in mail volume in the past five years. That combined with restrictions on raising postage rates and strict funding requirements for healthcare and pension funds have left the Postal Service facing a debt of $45 billion by 2017.
"The Postal Service is actually paying the retirement costs of people who have not yet been born and who have not yet gone to work for the postal service," Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio said.
His bill, known as the Postal Service Protection Act, would remove the prefunding requirement for healthcare and craft a plan to repay an estimated $40 to $60 billion that DeFazio said the agency has overpaid into the Civil Service Retirement System.
DeFazio has also setup an online petition that asks the White House to weigh in on his bill and the Board of Governor's plan to close approximately one third of the Postal Service's processing plants.
"They have been silent on the issue of dismantling the postal service," DeFazio said. "We would like an endorsement from the President."
The congressman has until May 24 to gather 100,000 signatures to ensure a response from the White House. The current count is just shy of 13,500.
"Hopefully the pace will pickup; we're engaging more groups," DeFazio said.
He hopes the White House and/or Congress will act in time to save Salem's processing plant, but both DeFazio and Olson know time is running out.
"I am always going to remain optimistic," Olson said. "But we are in critical time right now for the Salem plant."