William H. Young, new president of the 305,000-member National Association of Letter Carriers, urged Congress to reform postal laws that he called unworkable in the 21st century and said the union will watch President Bush's new postal commission closely because its recommendations “could either save the postal service or bury it.”
Young was sworn in as NALC president Dec. 13, two days after Bush announced the nine-member presidential commission to examine postal reforms. The commission has until July 31 to submit its report.
Young, 56, took over from Vincent R. Sombrotto, who led the mail carriers union for the past 24 years. Sombrotto did not seek another term.
In his years of leadership positions at the union, Young won a reputation as an architect of dispute-resolution procedures aimed at reducing workplace grievances and enhancing labor-management relations.
He joined the U.S. Postal Service shortly after high school and moved through local, state and regional NALC positions until reaching the union's Washington headquarters in 1990. He has been national executive vice president since 1998.
In his inaugural address, Young cited challenges such as the Internet and other electronic alternatives, overnight and parcel delivery competitors and the addition of 1.7 million new delivery points each year.
“So we end up delivering less mail, or certainly less profitable mail, to more places,” he said. “And if that isn't enough, we're hamstrung by laws and regulations that simply don't work in the 21st century.
“If the members of this union are not actively involved in championing change — pushing for a new 21st century postal service that will serve the American people for decades to come — then it's simply not going to happen.”
Young warned, however, that the union must be vigilant.
“Our opponents and our critics would just love to hijack postal reform and use it as a vehicle to push their own privatization, anti-worker agendas,” he said. “This we will not allow to happen.”
As for Bush's commission to examine the postal service's mission and operations and suggest changes, Young said, “It's the first commission of this sort in well over 30 years, and you can be sure that we will bird-dog this commission very closely.”
Meanwhile, American Postal Workers Union president William Burrus challenged the role of the reform commission in a statement Dec. 11.
He called the White House appointment of the commission “a thinly veiled attempt to dismantle the postal service as we know it. The Bush administration is responding to the requests of the right wing of the Republican Party and the large mailers.”
In the past, the APWU has demonstrated to Congress and the Postal Rate Commission that the discounts large mailers get for presorting their mail far exceed the costs that the USPS avoids from processing that mail, thereby depriving the agency of revenue it needs to maintain its national infrastructure.
“I doubt the commission members, who have no prior postal experience, will be able to capture the essence of an institution with 230 years of history and 750,000 employees working in 38,000 facilities in a scant six months,” he said.
But Burrus said the APWU looks forward to working with the commission “to compile a report recommending changes to the postal service that will protect universal service at universal rates.”
The APWU represents 360,000 postal clerks, motor vehicle and maintenance employees.