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Unions Disagree With Many Postal Labor Proposals

Leaders of four postal unions expressed concerns regarding the workforce-related recommendations of the President's Commission on the U.S. Postal Service at a hearing in Washington yesterday.

The hearing, the fourth in a series held by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, had been postponed due to the ricin incident that closed three Senate buildings earlier this month.

The goal of the hearing was to review the workforce-related recommendations made by the commission last July, which include some of its more controversial proposals.

Among them are recommendations to reform the collective bargaining process; to give management and employee unions the authority to negotiate not only wages but also all benefits; to establish a performance-based pay system for all employees; and to authorize the new Postal Regulatory Board to develop a mechanism for ensuring that total compensation for postal employees is comparable to the private sector.

William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said that the workforce recommendations are unacceptable.

He noted the report repeatedly states that the commission supports the right of postal workers to engage in collective bargaining.

“Nevertheless, it recommends the establishment of a regulatory board, appointed by the president, which would have the authority to set compensation of postal employees,” he said. “It is completely inconsistent and totally unacceptable for the commission to espouse commitment to collective bargaining while simultaneously recommending the postal compensation [be] dictated by an appointed board, separate and apart from the collective bargaining process.”

Burrus also addressed rate setting, saying that the APWU has been a vocal critic of unfair rate setting that benefits some very large mailers at the expense of consumers and small businesses.

USPS data showed that work-sharing discounts provided to major mailers exceed the costs avoided by the postal service, he said.

He also discussed mail volume.

“The current business model does not determine the relative contribution to the institutional cost by First-Class mail as compared to Standard mail if First-Class mail grows or declines,” he said. “The question [of] dividing institutional costs among all classes of mail will remain.”

At present, he said, it takes about three pieces of Standard mail to make up for one piece of First-Class mail.

“This distribution of cost is a rate-setting decision that will be unresolved by postal reform.”

William Young, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers; Dale Holton, national president of the National Rural Letter Carriers of America; and John Hegarty, president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, also offered comment.

All agreed that attention should focus on the recommendation to resolve the issues of military retirement obligations and the escrow fund of the Civil Service Retirement System contribution.

Another consideration was the resolution of the Office of Personnel and Management decision to shift to the postal service $86 billion in costs for services attributable to previous federal government employment.

“These would be enormous burdens to the postal service, to consumers and to the mailing industry, and the correction of these problems may be the most important action that Congress can take to preserve and protect the postal service,” Burrus said.

Hegarty, for example, said that he learned last year that “the United States Mint, who mail out probably millions and millions of coins each year to collectors, use UPS or FedEx. They don't use the U.S. Postal Service. The reason they don't is because they can get a better rate because of the volume discounts [those companies offer].

“If a company such as Amazon.com or the United States Mint approached the postal service and said, 'I will give you 3 million pieces per month; what can you give me for a discount?' right now, the postal service says, 'I can't give you any discount,'” he said. “I think that should be corrected.”

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