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Amendments to postal bill rile unions

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee delayed its vote on the Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Funding Reform Act of 2009 (S. 1507) at a business meeting on July 29. Instead, the committee, chaired by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), made four amendments to the bill that restrict employee bonuses, increase the annual allowable debt for the agency and require expedited reporting on the USPS’s financial health.

Both the American Postal Worker’s Union (APWU) and the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) have publicly denounced the changes.

“We will do everything we can to defeat it,” said APWU president William Burrus, in a statement. He called the bill “reactionary,” saying that the recent changes, such as a stipulation that any binding arbitration in the negotiation of postal contracts take the financial health of the USPS into account, would put the overall bargaining powers of the agency at risk.

The NALC cited similar concerns with the negotiation amendment.  

The bill proposes changes to Chapter 89 of Title 5 of the United States Code, which schedules payments from the USPS to fund its workers’ healthcare and retirement. The current bill would temporarily relieve the USPS of meeting all of the payments during 2009 and 2010 in an attempt to stave off the agency’s accruing financial debt.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), the originator of two of the recent amendments to the bill, including the one regulating arbitration, credited the USPS financial failures to “a failed business model.” According to reports, Coburn said management, unions and employees need to be willing to make cuts and change the way the Postal Service operates if it hopes to succeed.

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