By Dustin Hurst | Franklin Center
HELENA — Save some union jobs, win an endorsement in a tight U.S. Senate race.
The 500-member Montana Postal Workers Union officially and unanimously endorsed Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who is running against Republican U.S. House Rep. Denny Rehberg for the U.S. Senate seat.
The endorsement, given Thursday, comes two days after Tester orchestrated amendments to a U.S. Postal Service reform bill, which keeps 85 rural Montana post offices open for at least another year. Tester attached to the bill an amendment to cut the salary of the postmaster general by up to a third.
The union wasn’t shy about knocking Rehberg, saying the congressman doesn’t have their interests at heart.
“Denny Rehberg has not supported our cause as union,” said the endorsement resolution, approved at the group’s annual convention in Great Falls.
“He’s a rich guy,” MPWU president Gary Phillippe told Montana Watchdog. “He doesn’t care for the middle class.”
The union, which hasn’t endorsed a candidate in years, said Tester put up “the fight of his life” to protect union jobs and spare rural offices.
So, the group bucked precedent and announced its support.
Phillippe accused Rehberg of pushing for the privatization of the postal service, a step, the union president said, heads in the wrong direction.
Chris Bond, Rehberg’s campaign spokesman, told Montana Watchdog his boss isn’t for full privatization, although he’s open to discussing postal locations in small communities sharing space with businesses, thus saving on operating expenses.
The endorsement didn’t shock Bond.
“It’s not surprising that a government union would throw its support behind a big-government candidate like Sen. Tester,” Bond wrote in an email.
Tester’s campaign hasn’t commented on the endorsement, although it was quick to post the resolution to the senator’s campaign website.
The union pledged to assist Tester’s re-election effort.
The postal service, which lost $5.1 billion in 2011 and is projected to lose more this year, proposed last year shuttering more than 3,700 service locations nationwide, including 85 rural Montana offices. The agency targeted those offices, because they were failing to produce enough revenue to justify operational costs.
Last week, however, the U.S. Senate amended the 21st Century Postal Service Act of 2012 under the premise of protecting citizens who will vote by mail in November’s general election. The closures will be put off by at least a year, although senators also enacted new standards, such as showing residents still have access to vital deliveries — such as prescription drugs. The agency also would be prohibited from closing any office that doesn’t have another location with 10 miles.
The bill, with amendments attached, cleared the Senate on April 25 with a 62-37 vote. Tester and Montana’s senior U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, also a Democrat, voted for the measure.
Phillippe applauded the bill’s passage, but suggested he isn’t necessarily against all post office closures. Rather, he wants a “fair way” to decide which locations should close.
Closing the wrong ones, he explained, could cripple some rural Montana towns.
“You might as well chop the heart out of some of these communities,” Phillippe said.