Union leaders tell senators to oppose five-day delivery plans

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The US Postal Service's plan to reduce home delivery to five days per week faces considerable opposition from some members of Congress and postal employee unions.

William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, told members of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government on March 18 that the USPS' claims that it will run a deficit of $238 billion in the next 10 years are “outlandish and unsupported.”                                                                                          

“The rush to five-day mail delivery is an ill-conceived reaction to declining mail volume during an economic slowdown,” he said. “While volume may never return to 2006 levels, even a modest return, coupled with repeal of the requirement to pre-fund retiree health benefits, would go a long way toward sustaining the Postal Service for many years to come into the future.”

Burrus instead urged members of Congress to restructure the USPS' payment obligations for pensions and retiree healthcare benefits.

“This requirement, more than any other single factor, has created a USPS deficit of alarming size,” he said.

Ruth Goldway, chair of the Postal Regulatory Commission, said during the hearings that the PRC has not received a formal proposal for reducing delivery, but it expects one this month.

Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers union, also urged Congress to reject the five-day delivery plan. Instead, he called for the return of the $75 billion that the Postal Service's inspector general says the agency was overcharged from 1972 to 2009.

“Congress should correct the retiree health prefunding policy first,” he said. “It is the single most effective step you can take to stabilize the Postal Service's finances.”

The comments followed testimony by John Potter, postmaster general and CEO of the Postal Service, who presented his plan for restoring financial stability to the agency. Potter revealed much of the plan, which includes a transition to five-day delivery, an exigent price increase in 2011 and restructured pension-payment system, to the public on March 2.  

“At present, the two most immediate changes the Postal Service urgently needs from Congress involve legislation that provides a restructuring of the prefunded payments for the retiree health benefits and allows the Postal Service to reduce the frequency of mail delivery,” he said. “Although these two changes will go a long way in helping to alleviate the financial pressures facing the Postal Service, by themselves they will not be enough to make the Postal Service profitable.”

Potter's plans also face resistance from members of Congress. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has said in statements that she is “concerned that cutting delivery days could force businesses to seek alternatives for their communication needs.”

“Such a migration of customers will only increase the erosion in the Postal Service's shrinking mail volume, which will prompt greater postage rate hikes and renew calls for even more truncated delivery services,” she said in a statement. “It is a vicious cycle that will only exacerbate the Postal Service's dire financial problems.”

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), the committee's chairman, reportedly said that “serious questions need to be asked and answered before we in Congress simply alter course and leap to embrace a wholesale change in the weekly frequency of mail delivery.”

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