As the U.S. postmaster general spoke in San Francisco today at the nation’s largest mailing industry convention, postal workers gathered outside to criticize the state of the postal service.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe was in San Francisco this morning to deliver the keynote address at the National Postal Forum and outlined recent budget cuts that have led the U.S. Postal Service to reduce its workforce by 193,000 employees since 2006.

“No other organization that I can think of–either public or private–has gone through a similar downsizing so rapidly and continued to function at a high level,” Donahoe said.

However, those cuts–as well as proposals to eliminate Saturday mail service and close more post offices–were what prompted a rally outside the convention center by dozens of current and former postal workers and their supporters.

“We’re here to say no to excessive closures and consolidations,” said Kim Garcia, a mail handler at a postal facility in San Francisco’s Bayview District. “We need a postmaster who supports the postal service and not one who is actively trying to dismantle it.”

David Welsh, a retired letter carrier in Daly City, said the move to five-day mail service will be a big blow to customers, particularly the elderly and disabled who could see delays in receiving prescription drugs.

“It’s going to be a big cutback,” Welsh said.

Postal officials have blamed a mandate instituted by Congress in 2006 requiring the agency to pre-fund its retiree health care costs as well as customers’ changing mailing habits as reasons for the downsizing.

Donahoe today encouraged the mailing industry to use technology such as imbedded QR codes or augmented reality to improve the experience of customers who are increasingly relying on e-mails or other online means of communication.

“We must continue to work to drive innovation and leverage data and technology to improve the consumer experience and grow revenue,” Donahoe said. “Our challenge as an industry is to shape those moments when people are experiencing mail, and make them more powerful in the future.”

The protesters outside acknowledged the congressional mandate has prompted some layoffs and called for its removal, but argued that new technology was not a reason to cut the budget further.

“The Postal Service was there before the Constitution,” said Harvey Smith from the group Save the Berkeley Post Office. “This is an organization that survived the telegraph, survived the telephone, survived the fax … it’ll survive e-mail.”

The National Postal Forum runs through Wednesday at Moscone Center West.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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