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About 18 postal workers gathered with signs reading, “Save the postal service” in downtown Watertown on Tuesday. They approached passersby with petitions, and waved their signs to many honks from passing cars.
Representative Bill Owens has cosponsored legislation that would relieve the postal service of its current obligation to pre-fund health benefits for future retirees. Christopher Hyde is vice president for the local American Postal Workers Union. He helped to organize the rally outside of Owens's Washington Street office.
"Well basically, it's going to free up some of the money that Congress has taken from us through the Postal Accountability Act of 2006. Basically right now the Postal Service is the only agency or business required to prefund future retirees' health benefits to a tune of $75 billion."
Hyde says if it weren't for that obligation, the Postal Service would be in the black. Instead, right now, it's facing bankruptcy and looking to cut services and close local offices, including many low-traffic locations in the north country.
Bill Owens, a Democrat representing New York's 23rd Congressional District, says that poses problems for the communities that would be affected.
"Well, you know, I think that when you look at our communities, this is not like closing a post office in an urban area, where maybe you'll find another post office six blocks away. So this has dramatic impact on communities, from a couple of perspectives."
Local post offices provide important services, Owens says, especially for senior citizens. Closing an office can pose hardships for residents, especially during the north country's harsh winters. And more than that, Owens said, post offices offer intangible values as gathering places that get people connected to their neighbors and communities. If an elderly person breaks a routine and doesn't show up for a few days to check his or her mail, a postal employee may realize that person needs to be checked in on, for example.
Owens says other options need to be considered before local post offices are closed down.
"We have many situations where there are libraries in communities, and certainly colocating post offices would be very appropriate. It would cut down on the cost, you can even if necessary take steps to do some automation in these colocated facilities, but there are a lot of options that need to be looked at to make sure that we keep that, those, if you will, intangible values that the post office creates functioning in our communities."
Owens says the Postal Service needs to look into ways to generate more revenue, rather than simply cutting services and office locations to save on costs.