WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Some U.S. Postal Service workers in Washington, D.C., launched a four-day hunger strike on Monday to urge that massive upfront retirement program payments be dropped as a way to bolster the cash-strapped mail agency.
The hunger strike by 10 postal workers is part of days of protests aimed at pressuring Congress to eliminate a 2006 requirement that the agency pay retiree health benefits 75 years in advance.
Hunger strikes and protests are planned in other cities, including Seattle, Chicago and New York, according to a statement by Communities and Postal Workers United, a group opposing post office closures that is organizing the events.
Representative Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat, said the requirement was costing the Postal Service $5.5 billion a year and had been designed to force its privatization.
"It's so clear that prefunding is a mechanism to wreck the Postal Service," he told a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol.
Kucinich was flanked by protesters carrying flags and a sign that said: "Hunger Strike to Save the Postal Service."
Jamie Patridge, a mail carrier from Portland, Oregon, said: "Congress created the problem, Congress can fix it."
Protesters contend that without the prefunding requirement, postal revenues were close to matching expenses over the past six years.
The mail agency lost $3.2 billion in the first quarter of 2012. It has begun offering buyouts to employees to reduce its work force.
High costs are eating up revenue that has been shrinking because of Americans' increasing online communications. The agency does not receive taxpayer money to pay for operations.
The protests in Washington will include vigils, a march and a rally in front of Postal Service headquarters. The hunger strike will end on Thursday evening.
A Postal Service plan would reduce the number of facilities and workers, end Saturday mail delivery, pull employees out of federal health plans and into a postal plan, and eliminate the retiree prepayment.
The agency needs permission from Congress for much of its plan.
(Reporting By Ian Simpson; Editing by Vicki Allen)