We can do better communicating DMers' needs to PRC

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I had an opportunity to attend the recent National Postal Forum in Washington. It was held at the new convention center March 25-28. The forum is an annual convention of U.S. Postal Service and mailing industry folks. The large exhibit hall featured a significant supplier showing of hardware, software and services for the mailing and postal industry. The attendance was about 7,000, high as it usually is for a Washington forum. Next year's forum will be held in Anaheim, CA, a popular convention spot. However, with most of the attendees from the East Coast it's unlikely that we'll see the same attendance level. Much will depend on next year's economy.

For a number of years now the forum has featured full-day seminars on a single topic or product line. Last year, Periodicals were featured. This year the topics were parcels, addressing and marketing. I was able to attend the parcel and marketing sessions. I found the marketing session interesting in that the speakers demonstrated the power of direct mail marketing to generate traffic and increase revenues. Unfortunately, my reaction to the parcel session was that it seemed, primarily, to be just a number of sales pitches.

But to me the most important session was a March 26 morning general session that consisted of a question-and-answer roundtable on postal issues. Board of Governors Chairman Jim Miller led the roundtable. He was joined by five other governors. Most of the questions were submitted in advance by forum attendees. Mr. Miller and a couple of the governors seemed very knowledgeable on issues facing the postal service. Indeed, a couple of the governors spoke of the strategic challenges facing the USPS. Unfortunately, a couple of the governors on the panel seemed clueless regarding questions raised about the postal service. So as not to embarrass anyone I won't mention names.

I know that I'm sounding like a broken record on this issue, but unless the caliber of all the members of the board improves, the potential benefits of the reform legislation will be difficult to realize. Fortunately there may be an opportunity to start influencing the process. Senators Tom Carper, D-DE, and Susan Collins, R-ME, co-authors of the Senate's postal reform legislation, have just written a letter to Dan Blair, chairman of the Postal Regulatory Commission.

Under Mr. Blair, and mandated by the new reform legislation, the PRC is developing a set of rules for a new postal rate-making process. The purpose of the Carper/Collins letter was to remind the chairman and the commission that the most important rate-making requirement was that rate increases not exceed the consumer price index.

I believe that just as these senators have written to the PRC reminding them of the legislation's contents, the mailing industry should write letters to these senators reminding them of the provisions of the act they authored. It specifies the background and experience requirements for board nominees. After all, the Senate committee must approve Board of Governor and Regulatory Commissioner nominations.

On a lighter note, to some there appears to be a full-fledged food fight going on between the heads of the two largest postal unions.

The National Association of Letter Carriers represents the letter carriers and is headed by Bill Young. The American Postal Workers Union represents the "clerks" and is headed by Bill Burrus. Both unions represent about 300,000 current and retired postal employees.

Late last year the APWU signed a new four-year contract with the USPS. While the NALC, after failing to reach an agreement with the postal service, has begun the binding arbitration process.

It's interesting to note that both letter carrier unions, the NALC, which represents city letter carriers, and the NRLCA, which represents the rural carriers, have failed to reach contract agreements and have begun the arbitration process.

It's very important to note that the carriers, generally considered to be the backbone of the postal service, have been unable to reach a contract. While the clerks, whose ranks have been dramatically reduced through automation, have signed a contract with postal management.

Clearly something is brewing here. City carrier staffing levels have recently started to decline, despite increasing total mail volumes. As a result of automation, city carrier routes have expanded, giving the carriers more delivery stops. I've heard that more is also being demanded of rural carriers, who generally bid for their routes.

It would seem that this battle, between the letter carrier unions and postal management, could profoundly impact on the future of the postal service. It would appear that Mr. Burrus, having lost almost 50,000 members through automation since 2002, is stirring the pot.

Stayed tuned, this could get real interesting. And it's immensely important.

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