CUMBERLAND – Protesters turned out in force Tuesday morning for a rally designed to create more support in preventing the Valley Falls Post Office from closing on July 8.
Town resident Derrick Watson, who heads an organization named “The Concerned Citizens of Valley Falls – Save Our Post Office, indicated last Thursday that he had sent an approximate 34-page appeal to the Postal Regulatory Commission in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, May 22.
He had designed this particular rally, held in front of the postal branch at 197 Broad St., to develop a bigger base to fight the U.S. Postal Service, and it looked like he succeeded.
“I've collected hundreds of public and community comments, and those requests for waivers of electronic filing will be attached to the appeal docket (number, which is A2011-18),” Watson noted Tuesday. “I'm very pleased, as we had a good turnout. We got some media coverage, and cars were honking to show their support.
“It was a very busy day for this branch because it was closed (Monday) for the holiday; that's why I scheduled the rally for (Tuesday)” he added. “When the young people from the Rhode Island Action Committee showed up, I was stunned; that really blew my mind. When Mayor (Daniel) McKee arrived, he gave a little speech about traction, and I think we have that now.
“We've dug our heels in. Our wheels aren't just spinning. The mayor also pointed out in one of his statements in the appeal about how closing the post office would stymie his plans to revitalize this area, and he nailed it.”
McKee and Watson weren't the only ones who showed their dismay this sunny day. Others included Steven H. Poole Sr., the clerk craft director for the American Postal Workers Union's Providence area Local 387; James Ozanian, the APWU's State Chapter President; Ray Kearns, Vice President of Local 387; Mike Vinal, a union steward from Pawtucket; George Nee, President of the R.I. AFL-CIO; Joe Renzi, Director of Organizing for the United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 328 (Providence); and Carlos Gonzalez, a union organizer for the UFCW local.
“As clerk craft director for APWU Local 387, I represent clerks, truck drivers and maintenance workers at this post office, and we're the biggest of the four postal unions,” Poole offered. “If this place closes, and I hope it doesn't, we'll represent the clerk who works here, in terms of what her next job will be.
“We went to the community meeting (held at Cumberland Town Hall) on April 6 because we wanted to try to educate the public as to what was going on.”
During that meeting, Mike Powers – the Providence Post Office's Community Relations Representative – claimed he attended to solicit comments and gripes.
“I and the other attending residents immediately realized that the meeting was never intended to be a 'fact-finding forum,' as stated in the public notice,” Watson wrote in the appeal. “The postal representative … was there instead to close our post office, that the decision already had been made.
“Our attendance meant nothing, our petitions meant nothing, and our community's quality of life meant even less. We left the meeting feeling betrayed, but – most of all – ignored.”
Poole mentioned he asked Powers on April 6 if he told the folks about the appeal process. (Officials scheduled the meeting for 2 p.m., Watson said, because fewer people could attend due to work obligations).
“At the time, (Powers) said it was still undetermined if (the USPS) would close this thing; he said the meeting was an outreach to the residents, and they were there to listen to their concerns,” Poole stated. “He explained they would listen to the community members' concerns and take their input, then go back to the USPS with that information, and they'd decide whether to keep it open.
“That was just a lot of fluff,” he added. “As far as the system's concerned, the USPS just wants to get rid of these brick and mortar post offices, regardless of whether it makes a profit, because it wants to open up contract units in small businesses and major retail stores, such as gas stations, convenience stores, etc.
“They had contract postal units 300 years ago, so this is nothing new. They must realize that post offices, especially one like this, often act as meeting places. People can walk to it from their homes to send a package or buy stamps, and they run into friends and chat.”
Poole said the very fiber of the Valley Falls community would be suffer if the branch shut down, especially when residents would have to trek about 3.5 miles to the Diamond Hill Road location. Many residents, due to age or economic situation, may not be able to drive that distance, or afford it with escalated gas prices, and their postal needs would suffer.
“I've been involved with this particular fight for about 18 months now, and I've got to commend Derrick for being so adamant about gaining the community's feelings,” Poole said. “He has a vested interest in having this branch remain open, and that's because of his eBay selling business.
“They're trying to close this because – on paper – the numbers look good,” he continued. “They say driving just 3.5 miles to Diamond Hill is easy, that it's close enough. The problem is they're not looking at this community, and I think that's a huge concern right now.”
Powers also revealed at that April 6 meeting that the USPS would save over $100,000 per year with the Valley Falls closure, but that isn't true, he said.
“The lease for this post office is valid until April 2013, and that means it would have to pay over $50,000 for that lease,” Poole noted. “And there's no labor saving because (the female clerk) would be working at another office, so there's no $100,000 savings.”
Nee called the news to close the Valley Falls Post Office “awful” due to the impact it would have not only on residents but also area businesses.
“There are a lot of hard-working people who live in this community, and they'd be very inconvenienced if it closes,” he said. “It's working well here, so why try to change it? I don't consider it fair, the reason being the USPS has said this would be the only branch to close throughout the New England region.
“The bureaucrats in Washington don't realize the impact would have on residents around here,” he added. “They should have better things to do than to worry about closing the post office in Valley Falls, R.I.”
Vinal explained that part of the appeal initiated by “Save Our Post Office” backers is that there is no bus service from the Broad Street site to the Diamond Hill Road location.
“What they don't know, but will learn, is that there's no public transportation from here to there,” he insisted. “That should blow that reasoning out of the water.”
Renzi and Gonzalez attended just to show their support for the “Save Our Post Office” and Local 387 members.
“We don't want to see any post office close, especially this one,” he said. “It's part of the community, and – if they shut this down – these people would lose a critical component within it. We've got our union members living here, and they're depending on this staying open.”