Postal unions blast two “rescue” bills

WASHINGTON – The Letter Carriers and the Postal Workers are blasting both Postal Service “rescue” bills – one a highly partisan document crafted by House Republicans, the other a bipartisan draft from four senators – as deeply flawed legislation that would actually come close to killing the Postal Service.

As a result, NALC is passing around petitions at post offices nationwide to get postal service users to halt the legislation, while APWU has launched a call-in campaign and provided a list of potential allies in saving the Postal Service. Both unions are also strongly opposing the measures on Capitol Hill, while offering alternatives to help the Postal Service regain its financial footing.

At issue are two congressional proposals to aid the Postal Service, which may be considered by the end of this year. USPS managers say it is running out of money. USPS wants to solve its problems by eliminating 100,000 jobs through attrition, firing 120,000 workers – it needs lawmakers’ OK to override union contracts for that — closing 3,700 post offices and distribution centers and eliminating Saturday service.

The Postal Service lost $5 billion in the year that ended Sept. 30, after an $8 billion loss the year before. It also must make a $5.5 billion mandatory pre-payment of future retirees’ health care premiums by the end of this month, and says it can’t.

The GOP-run House Government Reform Committee, which oversees the agency, approved its legislation on a party-line vote in mid-October. The four Senate leaders of the Government Operations Committee unveiled their legislation just after.

Both measures drew the ire of both NALC President Fredric Rolando and APWU President Cliff Guffey. Both concede the Senate bill has some positive provisions, but on balance it’s still a bad bill that doesn’t solve the financial/health care problem. And Rolando says the House GOP measure, by committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., is so ideological that it would destroy tens of thousands of jobs – and not just at USPS.

“Rather than address the postal crisis caused by the pre-funding mandate, the Issa bill seeks to exploit the crisis to advance anti-worker ideological goals. Radically downsizing the government and gutting the collective-bargaining rights of hard-working postal employees appear to be the main goals of the legislation,” he said.

“Unfortunately, by destroying the hub of a $1.3 trillion industry that employs 7.5 million private-sector workers, HR2309” – Issa’s postal bill – “may be the most anti-business bill taken up by Congress in years. Slashing service and forcing a massive round of post office closings would seriously damage the printing, publishing, paper, and financial services industries. At a time of massive unemployment, HR 2309 would mandate, not just lead to, the destruction of hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Rolando declared. And the unions blasted an Issa provision to appoint a “receiver” to take over the Postal Service if it couldn’t pay its bills in any 30-day period. The receiver could trash virtually anything he wanted, including the union contracts and workers’ jobs.

Both union leaders were also caustic about the Senate bill by committee chairman Joseph Lieberman, Ind.-Conn., and top Republican Susan Collins of Maine. Rolando called it “a job-killing bill that will dismantle the Postal Service.” But its bipartisan backing gives that Senate bill a better chance of congressional passage.

The Lieberman-Collins bill, S1789, “would give the USPS short-term financial relief, but it also would force the agency to dismantle its retail and mail-processing network,” said Guffey. And an NALC fact sheet added S1789 would tilt arbitration over agency-union contract issues in favor of management.

“Mail will be delayed as a result of the elimination of hundreds of mail processing facilities and thousands of post offices, stations, and branches,” Guffey added. Both unions noted S1789 would let USPS kill Saturday delivery in 2014 and service to an estimated 90 percent of customers’ doors the next year.

Eliminating Saturday service kills 80,000 USPS delivery jobs alone, and thousands of other agency jobs, right in the middle of the Great Recession, NALC’s fact sheet says. “These drastic cuts will severely damage the Postal Service. It will make the USPS less relevant and drive away customers,” APWU’s Guffey agreed.

“Unfortunately, even with S1789’s proposed reduction in the level of pre-funding over several years, the Postal Service would be forced to slash services and eliminate jobs to cover its pre-funding costs. This would prioritize pre-funding over preserving decent middle-class jobs,” preserving Saturday delivery, or both, NALC said.

“In fact, it would place the dubious need to pre-fund future health liabilities of workers not yet hired over the continued provision of high-quality, six-day mail service to the American people and to the businesses that employ them.”

The two unions suggest alternatives to put USPS on a sound financial footing, including some provisions in the Senate bill: Taking off the cap on postal rates so that mailers – third-class bulk and junk mailers, though they did not say so – will pay their fair share of delivery costs, charging more for longer-distance mail, and letting the agency ship beer and wine through the mail and market other products, using its network of offices and routes. But most importantly, they advocate eliminating the health care pre-funding and also letting USPS draw on its drastically (at least $50 billion) over-funded pension plan to help see it through the recession.

Photo via Save America’s Postal Service.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.