U.S. Post Office Cuts Threaten Source of Black Jobs

Mary Wisniewski, Yahoo! News, January 21, 2013

While delivering mail on Chicago’s North Side, Lakesha Dortch-Hardy spoke about how much she loves her job at the U.S. Postal Service, and how much it would hurt if jobs such as hers were to disappear.

“These jobs are the middle class  . . . ” said Dortch-Hardy, a tall, energetic 38-year-old, who took long strides as she wheeled her cart along a row of two- and three-story brick apartment houses. “Without this job, I don’t know where I’d be right now.”

The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service has eliminated 168,000 jobs since 2006, and more cuts could result as it struggles to avoid its own “fiscal cliff.” {snip}

African-Americans represent 13.1 percent of the U.S. population and 11.6 percent of the labor force, according to a 2012 U.S. Department of Labor report. Nearly one in five African-American workers hold government jobs such as mail clerks, firefighters and teachers, the report said.


African-Americans make up about 20 percent of U.S. Postal Service workers—and are the majority in some urban centers, representing 75 percent to 80 percent of the 5,000 letter carriers in the Chicago area, according to Mack Julion, president of the Chicago branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers.

But the public sector has cut nearly 600,000 jobs since 2009, due to shrinking government budgets and a range of other issues, according to the Bureau of Labor Relations. The slower recovery for African-Americans in the labor market has, in part, been the result of government layoffs after the end of the recession was declared, according to the Labor Department report.

In December, the black unemployment rate was 14 percent, roughly double that of whites.


Last week, the Postal Service Board of Governors met to discuss a range of cost-cutting measures to strengthen the service’s finances following the loss of a staggering $15.9 billion in fiscal year 2012.

The Postal Service, self-funded by postage sales, blames most of the losses on a pre-funding requirement enacted by Congress in 2006 that requires it to make annual payments of nearly $5.5 billion in health benefits for future retirees.

The U.S. Congress has not been able to agree on legislation to overhaul the agency. The postmaster general has proposed eliminating Saturday mail delivery, closing some facilities and changing its benefit payment obligations, but congressional approval is needed for the more significant measures.

U.S. Postal Service labor costs, with most postal employees covered by collective bargaining agreements, have also been criticized as a contributor to its fiscal problems. Defenders of the service say labor costs have declined in recent years while worker productivity is at a record high.

With no action by Congress, the postal service is losing $25 million a day, by some estimates, and could run out of money by October.

“I’m afraid that Congress is going to fiddle while the Post Office burns,” said Philip Rubio, assistant professor of history at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro.


Why are there so many African-Americans in the Post Office? Because historically it was less prone to racial discrimination than other employers and offered a way out of poverty, says Rubio, a former postal worker and author of the book “There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice and Equality.”


{snip} By World War I, 10 percent of the Postal Service’s work force was African-American.

After an executive order by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 banned discrimination in the government and defense industries, there was a sharp rise in postal employment among African-American men and women, Rubio said.


The national average annual salary of career employees who work directly with mail, such as letter carriers, is $53,000 to $55,000, said a Chicago Post Office spokesman.


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