Postmasters Defend Low-Revenue Post Offices

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Leaders of two postmasters organizations urged senators not to make closures of financially struggling post offices part of the postal reform packages currently under consideration.


Speaking before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday, the two postmaster representatives argued against recommendations of the presidential postal reform commission that would give the U.S. Postal Service more power to close post offices. The reform commission has proposed an approach similar to that used by the federal base-closing commission that determined military facility closures in the early 1990s.


However, at a hearing yesterday postmaster leaders made the case that small post offices were vital to their communities, especially in rural areas. They also said that small post offices make up a tiny part of the USPS budget -- the 10,000 smallest offices account for 1 percent of the total budget -- so shutting them down would show minimal returns.


"The postal network is not the sum of its parts," said Wally Olihovik, president of the National Association of Postmasters of the United States. "It is an integrated system that relies on even the smallest of its components."


The postmasters organizations stand in opposition to postal management on this issue.


In rural areas, post offices provide more than just mail, said Steve LeNoir, president of the National League of Postmasters, which represents many rural postmasters. The offices provide rural consumers with access to government documents, help with the census and assistance with tasks such as obtaining money orders.


In his hometown of Horatio, SC, LeNoir set up a copying machine in his post office, providing residents a service they previously had to travel 20 miles to reach. Such ideas can help rural post offices generate more revenue, he said.


"I don't think we fully utilize these post offices," LeNoir said. "I think a lot of things could be done without stepping on the toes of the private sector to bring these post offices closer to profitability."


Ted Keating, executive vice president of the National Association of Postal Supervisors, told senators that postal headquarters needs more power over post office closings if it is to meet its financial challenges.


Rather than use a base-closing commission approach, Congress should give the USPS direct authority over post office closures and repeal the law the prohibits the postal service from closing offices strictly for economic reasons, Keating said.


Postmasters want labor unions to be more flexible about employee benefits but don't want to budge on post office closings, said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-IL, who also acknowledged that rural communities would suffer without their post offices.


"From the labor side, they don't want to give up benefits," Durbin said. "From your side, you don't want to give up the buildings."


Other issues discussed at the hearing included instituting a merit system for postal employee pay, the collective bargaining process, employee benefits and the postal management structure. Both the postmasters representatives and Keating argued for reducing bureaucracy and especially reducing the number of middle managers.


The hearing was held in the afternoon in the Rayburn building in Washington where the House Government Reform Committee usually meets. It originally had been scheduled for yesterday morning at the Dirksen building, but the Senate offices remained closed yesterday due to the discovery of a substance containing ricin, a deadly poison, in the mailroom there.


The ricin incident also led the Senate Government Affairs Committee to cancel an earlier hearing, originally scheduled for Tuesday, on postal reform issues that would have featured postal labor leaders. Those leaders will have a chance to speak at a third hearing held by the House Government Reform Committee, which is also considering postal reform proposals, scheduled for 1 p.m. today in Chicago.


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