Legislative & Political Dept.
Postal Legislation Stalled in House
Legislative and Political Department Director
(This article first appeared in the July/August 2012 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
Ignoring the urging of numerous senators and many others, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has signaled his intent to bring to the House floor a postal bill that unions, customers, small businesses and many legislators have condemned. In a memo to Republican lawmakers dated May 25, Cantor said the GOP would work to bring H.R.2309 forward for consideration between the July 4 holiday and Congress’ August recess.
The APWU has repeatedly charged that H.R. 2309 “would destroy the Postal Service as we know it.” The bill, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), would require the USPS to implement $3 billion worth of cuts in post offices and mail processing facilities in a two-year period, and would slash “door delivery.”
It also would make collective bargaining meaningless — prohibiting postal unions and the USPS from negotiating protection against layoffs, and allowing an appointed board to reject labor contracts it considers too costly.
Cantor’s decision implicitly rejects requests from senators, the APWU, and many others to move swiftly to consider postal reform and to use a bill passed by the Senate as a starting point.
Senate Approves S. 1789
The Senate approved S. 1789 on April 25 by a vote of 62-37, following extensive behind-the-scenes negotiations, two days of debate and consideration of 39 amendments.
The final bill, although it is flawed, is much better than the original version, which we said would provide short-term relief but inflict long-term damage. The improvements are a result of the tremendous effort of APWU members, postal customers, and elected officials who appreciate the importance of the Postal Service to American life.
As amended, S. 1789 would provide the USPS with short-term financial relief, by returning $11 billion in USPS overpayments to federal pension funds to the Postal Service. Remember, this is money paid by postal customers, workers and the Postal Service — not taxpayers.
The bill also would restructure the Postal Service’s obligation to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees, spreading the payments over 40 years — instead of the current 10 — and reducing the funding mandate from 100 percent to 80 percent. No other government agency or private company is required to make such payments, which were imposed on the USPS by a 2006 postal “reform” law.
These are positive steps, but they don’t go far enough to resolve the underlying cause of the USPS financial crisis (the requirement that the agency pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees). As a result, the USPS will not have access to the capital it needs to modernize and offer new products and services — which it must do if it is going to thrive in the digital age.
The Senate bill would also have devastating consequences for the thousands of postal and federal employees who were injured on the job and who receive compensation from the Office of Workers Compensation (OWCP).
S. 1789 also would authorize the Postal Service to offer retirement incentives. In addition, it would allow the USPS to negotiate with postal unions to create a health plan separate from the Federal Employees Health Beneﬁts Program. The legislation also would require arbitrators to “consider the financial condition” of the Postal Service, along with other relevant factors.
Our Priority Amendments
Before debate on the Senate floor began, the APWU identified three amendments as priorities — areas we felt still needed work. Unfortunately, the Senate rejected two of the three: Amendment #2042, offered by Sen. Robert Casey (D-PA), would have prevented USPS from degrading delivery service standards for four years, instead of the three-year protection offered in the bill. Amendment #2034, offered by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), would have replaced the provisions that would be financially detrimental to injured postal and federal employees.
The Senate approved our third priority, Amendment #2056, offered by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), which would allow greater community input into the process of postal closings, and give the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) authority to overturn USPS decisions on closures and consolidations. This important amendment passed by a voice vote.
Following the Senate vote, we identified the most important changes needed in a final bill:
We would like to thank the many senators and staff who worked with us to improve S. 1789. We are particularly thankful to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who stepped into the fray at a critical time during Senate deliberations to protect service standards and postal processing facilities. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sen. Robert Casey, Sen. Jon Tester, and Sen. Daniel Akaka were all helpful in passing a bill in the Senate that should serve as a starting point from which meaningful relief for the Postal Service could be accomplished.
Now, attention turns to the House, where we face a much more hostile political environment.
If the House waits until July or beyond to vote on a postal bill, it would delay financial relief and force the USPS to forego a payment of roughly $5.5 billion it is required to pay before Aug. 1 to fund healthcare benefits for future retirees. This is likely to trigger a new round of detrimental — and misleading — headlines about the future of the USPS.
And if the bill to be voted on is H.R. 2309, we will launch an all-out campaign to see that it is defeated. Stay tuned!
In a related matter, the House voted on May 10 to cut the pay of postal and federal employees by 5 percent by approving an increase in employees’ pension contributions. All of the 218 votes in favor of the measure were provided by Republicans; 183 Democrats and 16 Republicans voted against the bill.