CUMBERLAND — Remember the guy from Cumberland who fought so diligently to keep open the Valley Falls Post Office?
Despite his valiant attempts to combat both the U.S. Postal Service and the Postal Regulatory Commission, he failed, but he apparently didn't in the hearts and minds of members of the American Postal Workers Union/Rhode Island State Organization.
On Saturday, Nov. 12, APWU/RISO President James Ozanian presented Derrick Watson with a 2011 Community Service Award at Marchetti's Restaurant in Cranston.
Let's put it this way: Watson, 56, is as tough as any man can be, but even he admitted being touched by the gesture.
“I was almost in tears when they gave it to me,” he explained Thursday night. “Obviously, I wasn't expecting it. I was totally amazed when I saw the plaque; it was so beautiful … I'm so appreciative to James and everybody I worked with and for. Even though we weren't successful in our fight, at least (the union) acknowledged we tried.
“James told me, 'You know what? You never gave up even though you knew the ship was sinking. You kept giving the PRC logical, detailed arguments to keep the post office open. The arguments and information you gave were so sound, but they closed it anyway. It was heartbreaking, but you gave it everything you had. For that, we thank you.'”
In a statement, Ozanian revealed, “It was my pleasure to have been able to work with Derrick to keep his community's post office open. Derrick was at every informational picket (that) postal management scheduled; he filed citizen appeals with the Postal Board of Governors in Washington, D.C. It goes on and on.
“My union felt Derrick deserved recognition for his community effort, and that it should not go unnoticed or unappreciated, so we decided to give Derrick (this) award,” he added.
The presentation occurred in front of Ozanian's wife and two other union representatives. Watson mentioned all asked him why he had labored so tirelessly for his fellow residents.
“I said, 'That's just my nature. I don't give up on anything because you never know where the chips may fall,'” he offered. “My last-ditch efforts were to the Postal Regulatory Commission, and my documents and reasoning were absolutely valid.
“Despite that logic, and the empirical and implied evidence that made absolute sense, they did it anyway; they closed it back in August,” continued Watson, who claimed he walked or drove to that post office at least once, if not twice, a day to send packages that his e-Bay-buying clients had ordered from him.
That's when this Cumberlander, in true Watson fashion, began to rant about the PRC's reasons for closure, and that – in his eyes – it never provided evidence to back them up.
“They claimed Valley Falls was losing money, but there was no downturn in counter visits,” he said. “The Postal Service never countered. They also never counted one dime in what I spent on sending packages around the world, and they told me they didn't count my revenue as such.”
Watson indicated the USPS, for years now, has encouraged folks to purchase their postage on-line, and that he always followed that advice.
“I told them, as an e-Bay independent seller, I still had to go to the post office to drop them off, so the revenue I generated by getting postage on-line should still be credited to that individual post office,” he said. “The public representative agreed with me 100 percent. (The USPS) encourages people to do everything on-line, and then I was told they only count the revenue that's collected over the counter.
“I said, 'That's hypocritical. You ask people like me to buy postage on-line, but it's not credited to that particular post office, to that zip code being used. Why would you encourage me to go on-line when my post office isn't being credited?' I crunched the numbers, and I gave them a hypothetical of what I spent on-line, and also what over 80 other e-Bay sellers spent.
“I explained to them that Valley Falls' post office didn't have a decrease in revenue; the only reason they were saying that was because they diverted that revenue from the actual building on Broad Street to on-line postage payments. That resulted in a reduction of revenue (Valley Falls Post Office employees) could report to the USPS, but I was still being forced to go to that post office to mail my packages.
“They used that as a basis to close Valley Falls, which I find absolutely insane. They told me they had a drop in income, and I know they didn't.”
In addition, Watson called the PRC's appeals process “convoluted” because it, in actuality, has no authority to tell the USPS how to conduct its business.
“All the PRC can do is make recommendations; even if it says to the Postal Service 'Don't do something,' it doesn't have to listen,” he stated. “It made so much sense not to close that post office. The PRC can't tell the Postal Service what to do, and I don't care what type of appeal you're making. The bottom line is that the PRC has a bark but no bite.
“It can bark and bark, but – when you open the door – there are no teeth,” he continued. “The PRC makes residents like me just spin our wheels. You know what I've discovered? What's the use in having a PRC when it doesn't have the power to do anything?”
He nevertheless admitted a few positives came out of his numerous appeals, and that they will “resonate” for years to come.
“On is the Postal Service now has mandates; when they approach a post office and its customers about closure, they can't assume they will be approached with unsound information and documentation,” he offered. “Now they'll have to do that with greater care.
“In our case, they polled only those owners of PO box numbers (how they felt about the closing); now they will have to poll everyone who uses retail postal services,” he added. “Another positive is they have to monitor the diversion of income … They can't say 'We're going to close the post office because of a reduction of revenue,' and that's because they're not counting as revenue the on-line postage purchases.
“My contention was, 'If I buy postage on-line but still have to walk to my post office to mail my packages, that post office should be credited with that revenue.
“Like I said, the public representative I worked with agreed with me; he told me this was the first time that argument had ever been made … The postal carriers will pick up packages at your door, but only if they are express or priority mail. If it's anything else, you must travel to your post office.
“I have written hundreds of pages of documents that I sent to the PRC, and I've done surveys. I've conducted rallies and gathered signatures for petitions. I devoted hundreds of hours of time, and – with all of that effort – the PRC said, 'We agree with you, but there's nothing we can do about it.'”
Watson claimed he was so inconvenienced by the closure, he had to give up his e-Bay selling business and look for another job. He's currently employed as an information technologist at an Ocean State company.
He chose not to describe further.
“This award is a big consolation for me,” he said. “I'll always express my gratitude to the workers of the Postal Service. I have no problem with what they do; I know how hard they work. The only problem I ever had was, on Aug. 8, I had to take two packages to the Diamond Hill Road post office, and they lost two of my e-Bay packages.
“What happened was my E-Bay seller rating went down as a result of them losing those packages – the one going to North Dakota went to Florida, and the one going to Florida went to North Dakota. When I went to Valley Falls, they had never gone missing before. They eventually found them a few weeks later, but because of those hassles, I didn't have a choice but to give it up.
“You know, I'll never regret my fighting this – never,” he continued. “I've always known you fight the good fight until you get knocked down. I was told from the very beginning we'd get knocked down, and that the fix was in. Still, I didn't base my appeal on that. I based it on excellent documentation and arguments as to why it should remain open. They chose to close it.”
Watson explained that when he applied for his current job, the powers-that-be asked him what kind of contributions he felt he had made to society.
“I told them one of the biggest things was my fight against the U.S. Postal Service,” he said shyly. “They looked it all up on the Web site, and they told me one of the reasons they hired me was, 'This guy never stops. He never stops working.'
“They chose me over dozens of other applicants, and I think it's because they liked my spirit and energy,” he added. “Whatever else comes up that I feel is an injustice, I'm on it. I'm not going to let anything that I feel passionate about go by the wayside. If it doesn't make sense, or it adversely affects anyone I know, I'm on it.”