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The battle over maintaining six-day mail delivery grew loud Sunday in the Buffalo region, as nearly 400 letter carriers, residents and union officials rallied hard to maintain Saturday service.

Alison Ayer, a letter carrier in Depew, was one of hundreds who echoed the cry outside the post office on Galleria Drive in Cheektowaga and who marched with many others to the chant of “Five Day? Go Away.”

“Once they cut one day a week, they could cut more. This could be the start of something worse,” Ayer said. “I don’t mind working Saturdays. I’ve worked Saturdays my whole life. Bring it on. I think we (the U.S. Postal Service) are viable to keep it sustained.”

West Side Station letter carrier Macy Courtemanche, who has worked the job for 18 years, said that if Saturday mail delivery ended, it could signal the start of much worse.

“I think it would just be the beginning of the disintegration of the Postal Service,” she said. “The postmaster general didn’t have any authority to [suggest] this, himself.”

As many walked – carrying signs that read “Keep the Middle Class Working” and “No Closing Post Offices. No Layoffs” and “Five Day? No Way” – a prominent figure with the National Association of Letter Carriers’ Buffalo and Western New York branch talked about the importance of keeping Saturday mail delivery, despite the plan of Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe. Most at the rally were sporting navy, red and white T-shirts with the message “USA for 6 Day ... Don’t Dismantle the Postal Service.”

The Postal Service “says we lost $16 billion last year. Almost $13 billion of it was due to our mandate to fund future retiree health benefit costs. Very little of it was operational,” said Douglas Fordyce, legislative and political chairman of the NALC’s local branch. “Our message is to gain the public’s support to continue mail delivery for six days a week.”

Fordyce and others said they believe there are alternatives to eliminating Saturday mail delivery. The opportunities for new revenue they mentioned included the possibility of co- ordinating with local officials to offer fishing licenses and financial services and expanding offerings to include food deliveries to elderly people.

Buffalo’s rally was one of about 150 held in major cities across the nation Sunday.

“We understand the Postal Service is facing some serious financial challenges, like online bill paying,” Fordyce said. “But it’s a necessary institution for a great number of Americans. Seniors would be hurt the most, rural communities and small businesses who rely the most on Saturday service.”

If Donahoe’s plan goes forward – and many say it cannot, without congressional approval – Saturday mail service would end in August. However, packages would still be delivered. If that happens, an estimated 30,000 city letter carrier jobs would be eliminated across the nation, amounting to a sixth of the Postal Service’s full-time workforce, Fordyce said. Locally, that would translate to a 300- to 400-job loss among Postal Service workers in the Buffalo, Rochester and Jamestown region.

During the two-hour rally, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, lobbied hard for the postal workers and again had harsh words for the postmaster general, reiterating his call for Donahoe’s resignation.

“This postmaster general has been a disaster. He needs to go,” Higgins said, noting that Donahoe previously called for the closing of Buffalo’s William Street processing center, which had recently been praised for its cost efficiency and which Higgins said should have been regarded as a national model. Since then, Donahoe has promised that the William Street facility would remain open until at least 2015.

“He does not have the authority to unilaterally impose” the changes, Higgins said. “He needs to go.”

Higgins also blasted the Postal Service’s practice of pre-funding retiree health benefits, a practice that costs the Postal Service between $5.4 billion and $5.8 billion per year.

“If you eliminate six-day delivery, you begin to undermine the viability of the United States Postal Service,” Higgins said. “Our nation is about choice and competition. USPS can compete with a level playing field. The only thing we’re looking for is fairness.”

Retired letter carrier Jerry Kaczmarczyk participated in the rally. He said people relying on medications in the mail could be negatively impacted if there were no mail on Saturdays. Plus, department stores’ sale slingers would get delayed delivery with the elimination of Saturday service.

“Do we need to go back and put more people back in unemployment lines?” he asked.

Fordyce said that though slashing the sixth day of mail delivery has been talked of before, it has yet to happen.

“Congress hasn’t had the stomach to do it,” he said. “We have the bipartisan support to maintain six-day delivery.”

Current and retired letter carriers in the region weren’t the only ones fighting the issue. Agnes Mabins, an Erie County Department of Social Services employee, was walking in the rally because she believes in six-day delivery.

“People need to work and have their jobs. That cuts into their economic situation without the Saturday delivery,” she said. “If it’s cut down to five days, it would be the start of something else or go to four days and then three days. We’ve had six days for years. There’s no need to cut it down.”

email: krobinson@buffnews.com