LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – The United States Postal Service plans to cut 100,000 employees as early as next spring and the livelihoods and dreams of many Black families will die along with those positions.
For the first time, the post office will cut first-class mail in March in an effort to save up to $6.5 billion a year.
Analysts warn the cuts are just part of what’s in store for government workers as many hope for the best but brace for the worst while politicians debate over how to balance America’s checkbook.
As Democrats and Republicans’ fight over tax cuts for the wealthy, spending cuts, and unemployment insurance, it’s all bad news for vulnerable public sector workers. Postal employees just happen to be highest on the chopping block, but all government workers have been put on notice, one postal worker told The Final Call.
“The post office has been very good to African Americans. It has kept us in the middle class and I still believe they are going after the middle class to make the system the haves against the have-nots,” said Molly Bell, a mail handler on disability in Los Angeles.
The 64-year-old has been with the U.S. Postal Service for 27 years. She cannot stand on her legs for very long or lift things over 10 pounds, and has a severe wrist injury. She is still able to work but no work has been available within her medical limits.
“I worry that even though I’m off on disability, they may try to force me and others in my situation into retirement but I make more on disability as opposed to retirement,” she told The Final Call.
Ms. Bell receives 60 percent of her income but if forced to retire that would drop to 40 percent of her salary.
“You do the math. That’s a lot of my income. But they can’t just let us go. As a federal employee, other than doing something grievous like a bomb threat or stealing, the only way they could get rid of us is through an act of Congress and right now they’re trying to get the days shortened so the unions would have no feet to stand on,” she said.
Post office once seen as safe job
Blacks are one-fifth of the U.S. Postal Service’s workforce but analysts say the end is near.
“Good government jobs” particularly with that one agency have been seen as secure positions for Black families. Reduction or eradication of those jobs means the end of positions that helped build the Black middle class.
As the president and CEO of federal employment, President Barack Obama’s administration has decided to show its seriousness and increased pace in dealing with the deficit by reducing government positions. That means not hiring some people and laying off others at the federal level with some states and counties following that lead, according to Dr. David Horne, an African Studies professor at California State University Northridge.
“The very basis of the Black middle class in this country is a government job and it has been that way ever since the 1940s and 1950s when more and more jobs opened up for African Americans in the military and in federal and state agencies,” Dr. Horne said.
Historically, Blacks have realized more equal employment opportunity in government than in the private sector, particularly in the post office. It has been the reference point, the role model and really the essence of the public sector for the Black population in America, he explained.
Everybody knows somebody that works in the post office: a father, a mother, a daughter, son, auntie, somebody, Dr. Horne continued. “We lost almost 350,000 government jobs around the country and Black folks have disproportionately been a part of those layoffs. At least 100,000 and maybe half of them are Black, from federal down to city layoffs since the end of 2009 to now,” he said.
Those jobs are not coming back, the professor added.
One postal employee told The Final Call she doesn’t expect to be laid-off. She is concerned about the rationale for cutting first class mail delivery. She spoke briefly with The Final Call on condition of anonymity.
“My job is not immediately threatened, but these potential cuts to thousands of jobs will definitely drive customers to the Internet in droves to pay their bills so if that’s their concern, they are defeating it,” the worker said.
The postal service is expected to close about 3,700 local post offices and close some 250 of approximately 500 mail processing centers across the country. It is also waiting on Congress to authorize cuts to health care and other labor costs.
“A reduction in health care means higher premium costs for anyone remaining at the post office because many of us who will be able to stay are up in age. What we’re facing is devastating and we’re not the only ones,” Ms. Bell said.
Expressing urgency to reduce costs, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said in an Associated Press interview that the agency has to act while waiting for Congress to grant it authority to reduce delivery to five days a week, raise stamp prices and reduce health care and other labor costs.
After five years in the red, the post office faces imminent default this month on a $5.5 billion annual payment to the Treasury for retiree health benefits. It is projected to have a record loss of $14.1 billion next year amid steady declines in first-class mail volume. Postmaster Donahoe has said the agency must make cuts of $20 billion by 2015 to be profitable.
Blacks losing employment sector
Job advocates say the loss will be tremendous, alarming to Blacks, and must be addressed in a big way.
“The Republicans not only want to make sure we don’t see a return, they are hell-bent on trying to reduce government employment per se, unless it happens to be people that they know or within their own state or county,” Dr. Horne said.
It boils down to Republicans not supporting any jobs that employ Blacks and Latinos, especially tied to the federal government because they feel they’ll vote for Democrats. It’s all political nonsense by political capitalists, said Dr. Horne.
“The reality in the meantime is that Black people are really, really losing their shirts and not just individual jobs but they’re losing a whole sector of employment that was our entree, our open door to the middle class … No other population is so dependent on working for the government,” Dr. Horne said.
The cuts don’t compare to cutting Wall Street jobs at $200,000 a year with something to fall back on, said Dedrick Muhammad, senior director of the Economic Department for the NAACP. It’s a step back from opportunities for Blacks who, because of historical discrimination, earned half the wealth of Whites.
Mr. Muhammad believes public sector jobs are still some of the most stable despite the cuts but encourages people to not feel any job is guaranteed for life.
“People should work on building up and diversifying their skills. The economy is changing so much one can have no idea that what skills they have today will be in demand a few days from now,” he said.
Thirty-eight-years in the aerospace industry has shaped Willard Williams opinion about federal spending cuts and what they mean for Blacks with government jobs.
He advocates for federal employees as president of the L.A./Long Beach Area Chapter of Blacks in Government.
The fact is that the federal government just isn’t as secure as it used to be and Congress typically scapegoats federal employees to push their agendas, Mr. Williams said.
“To cut the budget, they’re throwing our salaries out and say, ‘Look at all those federal employees making all that money,’ ” and Blacks In Government advocates against maligning workers, he said.
The first round of cuts to federal jobs usually affect those hired within five years or less but the next set scheduled for March is what will impact people most, he said.
“We will see a little bit more, for instance, in Washington, D.C., Chocolate City, and Los Angeles, a lot of African Americans will be affected by that,” Mr. Williams said.
BIG’s efforts have been to ensure fairness and equity for all and ensure its members are prepared, trained and ready for hire. “A lot of people are looking and are scared, but they’re really waiting to see what’s going to occur in March,” Mr. Williams said.