In the age of who-uses-paper-for-anything-ever-anymore, there’s one casualty in New York City that has activists from across the five boroughs up in arms: the post offices.
This month, a group of advocates are rallying together to bring attention to the United States Postal Service’s plan to potentially shut down post offices throughout the city this year. The growing protest, organized through a newly-formed group called Community Labor United for Postal Jobs and Services, is targeting the Postal Service for planning closures that organizers say will disproportionately impact working class and low-income families in communities of color in the city. USPS, though, says that it is trying to tighten its belt in the face of dire financial challenges across the country and that it is choosing closures based on careful studies and specific criteria.
And last night, the effort got fresh support from Zuccotti Park — the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly and the OWS labor committee endorsed a plan to demonstrate this month at post offices throughout the city.
An organizer from Community Labor United for Postal Jobs and Services sent Runnin’ Scared the original list of 34 post offices that were being considered for shutdowns, with 17 in the Bronx, five in Brooklyn, six in Manhattan, five in Queens, and one in Staten Island. The advocates said that they think the Bronx has one of the highest concentration of potential closures in the nation. This afternoon, though, USPS officials told Runnin’ Scared that their recent studies of these post offices have led them to remove 21 from that list. That means that 13 still have to be studied and could potentially be shut down (all the ones from Brooklyn have been removed, a USPS official said).
“I’m outraged. I’m totally outraged,” said Johnnie Stevens, 56, founder of the group, who is helping to organize a rally on March 17th. “This is shock and awe when you’re talking about jobs and services.”
His group argues that the closures could not only lead to the loss of thousands of working class jobs, but also would burden neighborhoods where residents depend on snail mail and may no longer have easy access to post offices.
“My mother has a P.O box in Georgia — I know what it means to get a package,” he said. In the city, the consequences would be devastating, he added: “You will lose jobs. Lines will be backed up. People will be frustrated. Senior citizens will have to get on the bus…It’ll be chaos.”
Officials from the USPS told Runnin’ Scared that times are tough in the digital age.
“The postal service is experiencing dire financial challenges and we have to tighten our belt — not one notch but several notches to close the gap between the decrease in mail volume, retail transactions at the window and operational costs. The public has changed the way they use their mailbox,” Connie Chirichello, a spokesperson, wrote to us in an email.
She said that the Postal Service has nearly 32,000 retail facilities and that as customers do more business online (“with their smartphones or at their favorite shopping destinations”), the retail just simply cannot be maintained at the current size. In order to reduce costs and increase efficiency, USPS is conducting “Discontinuance Feasibility Studies” of nearly 3,200 retail offices, which look at specific criteria such as a decrease in transactions and employee workload, she said.
Though a large handful have been removed from the list, if at a later date the USPS Headquarters decides to conduct a future study, the same process would take place again, she added.
The group organizing the protest efforts got support last month from an organization called North Star Fund, which granted the advocates $1,500 to launch the campaign. The Fund’s executive director Hugh Hogan told us that this effort is about pressuring the USPS to consider the needs of residents and employees and not rush to poorly-planned conclusions.
“There are ways that we could intelligently think about the challenges before the Post Office that [consider] who really depends on the Post Office and how does that look in terms of wealth distribution?” he said. “Which communities are feeling impacts more?”
“It’s not clear that the Postal Service and our government tried to understand this,” he added. (In Chirichello’s email, she countered this, saying, “The input from our customers who use the station on a regular basis, as well as the community, employees and elected officials was an essential part of the process. We value their participation in the process. All public input is included in the official record of the study and considered before any final decisions are made.”)
“For me, it comes back to this issue of cutting services in neighborhoods that already have limited services or are facing cuts all around them,” Hogan said, adding that it is the people in these neighborhoods that need to organize. “We have to trust the people on the ground. We’ve got to find another way.”