Postal Reform Bill Riles Unions, Reduces To-the-Door Delivery
By Kenneth Corbin
A new proposal in the House of Representatives to rejuvenate the U.S. Postal Service would authorize the cash-strapped agency to phase out Saturday delivery of regular mail, move away from delivery to doors toward clustered mailboxes and undertake major cost-cutting reforms.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, unveiled his proposal as a discussion draft, suggesting that he would consider modifications before formally introducing legislation.
But the proposal, which revives many of the ideas included in a postal reform bill that Issa backed in the last congress, sparked pointed criticism from unions representing postal workers.
Cliff Guffey, the president of the American Postal Workers Union, said the group is still reviewing Issa's proposal, but that at first look it found several provisions "deeply disturbing."
"The draft bill would turn the USPS into a private, for-profit operation. It would do virtually nothing to strengthen the Postal Service's ability to serve the communications needs of our nation," Guffey said in a statement.
Frederic Rolando, the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, similarly criticized the proposal for recycling some of the provisions unpopular with unions that Issa had included in his last framework for postal reform.
"The NALC is disappointed that Chairman Issa did not take a fresher approach to postal reform with this discussion draft," Frederic Rolando, the union's president, said in a statement.
"We are going to carefully go through this new draft in the coming days," Rolando said, "and we hope that we will be able to work with the chairman on legislation to provide alternative approaches to postal reform that seek to modernize and strengthen the Postal Service - an agency with roots in the U.S Constitution - rather than to destroy it brick by brick."
Postal workers' unions have long criticized the plan to move to a five-day weekly delivery schedule, as the Postal Service itself has been advocating. Issa is proposing to allow the agency to move immediately to end Saturday delivery of regular mail, but to maintain Saturday package deliveries and shipments of prescription medicine. Issa estimates that the adjustments to Saturday service would save the agency at least $2 billion annually.
Additionally, the legislation would seek to garner $4 billion in savings by moving away from delivery at the door.
"The legislation will begin to standardize how mail is received around the nation by phasing out the expensive "to the door" delivery of mail, which only a quarter of addresses receive today, in favor of curbside and secure clusterbox delivery," according to a synopsis of the bill Issa released.
Issa's discussion draft comes on the heels of the latest dire warning from USPS officials about the unsustainable financial position the agency is facing. Last month, the Postal Service reported its earnings for the second quarter of the fiscal year, announcing a $1.9 billion loss for the period as Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe reiterated his call for Congress to enact reform legislation that would give the agency new operating freedoms and provide some relief from its workforce-related costs.
Amid a sustained and seemingly irreversible decline in First-Class mailing volumes, Issa is proposing that the Postal Service be authorized to sell new services, such as fishing licenses, and to be able to sell ad space on its vehicles and in its facilities. His bill would also bar political parties from using the non-profit mailing rate.
The discussion draft also provides for a number of more structural reforms that would authorize the Postal Service to cut costs, including many associated with its labor force. For instance, the plan into which the Postal Service pays to prefund retiree health benefits would be restructured to reach full funding in 2056.
The bill would also temporarily replace the Postal Service's board of governors with a panel of five full-time executives who would be tasked with overseeing the agency's turnaround and guiding it toward profitability. The board would be reconstituted once the Postal Service has achieved profitability and set a course for funding retiree benefits.
Additionally, Issa's proposal would impose checks on the power of postal unions by barring clauses prohibiting layoffs in collective bargaining agreements, and holding employees to the same standards as other federal workers, including the reduction-in-force provisions in place at other agencies.
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About the author:
Kenneth Corbin is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C. He has written on politics, technology and other subjects since 2007, most recently as the Washington correspondent for InternetNews.com, covering Congress, the White House, the FCC and other regulatory affairs. He can be found on LinkedIn here.
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