APWU Testifies to Congress:
Fix USPS Finances, Save Postal Services
(This article was first published in the September/October 2011 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
At a pair of congressional hearings in May and June, APWU president Cliff Guffey told lawmakers they must act soon to address the cause of the Postal Service’s financial crisis — not slash customer service by dismantling the retail and mail processing network.
At a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy, Guffey took issue with the title of the hearing GOP lawmakers had given it: “Postal Infrastructure: How Much Can We Afford?”
“The ‘we’ in this question is postal customers, not taxpayers,” Guffey said, refuting the myth that taxpayers fund the nation’s mail service, and that the USPS may need a “bailout.”
The union president pointed out that the nation’s mail service receives no taxpayer support – only payments for services rendered to the government — as Congress ordered when it established the USPS as an independent agency in 1970. Rather than gutting the retail and mail processing network our economy depends on, he said, the Postal Service “must expand its services to fill needs emerging because of digital communications.”
Instead of closing post offices, Guffey urged lawmakers to support legislation that would permit the USPS to partner with other government agencies to more efficiently deliver government services and provide economic justification to maintain a postal presence in rural and economically disadvantaged communities.
“The Post Office provides a unique public service that is still a necessity for many people,” he pointed out. “It is a focal point of many small communities; it is ‘where the flag flies;’ it is where the government provides support for the community.
“We strongly urge postal policy makers, both inside the Postal Service and elsewhere in government, to think creatively about how the Postal Service should be adapting its retail services to meet society’s current needs,” he said. “It would be tragic to dismantle the postal retail infrastructure and lose an opportunity to maintain it and improve the delivery of government services.”
The APWU recognizes the need for change in response to reduced mail volume and changes in the mail mix, Guffey said, and he pointed out that the new Collective Bargaining Agreement provides the USPS increased workforce flexibility, and includes innovative provisions that will permit management to provide retail services at lower costs.
However, the union has actively resisted the consolidation of many operations, the union president said. “In many cases, we have found that cost savings have been over-estimated and that actual cost savings cannot justify the adverse service impacts of the changes.”
It is also difficult to accurately gauge the needs of the mail processing network because mail volume is constantly in flux, Guffey said. Despite the USPS overall reduction of work hours, overtime has increased — which shows that the Postal Service needs its current employees.
Subcommittee Chairman Dennis Ross (R-FL) also invited testimony from several witnesses to press the case that the USPS network should be cut. Philip Herr, director of Infrastructure Issues for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), called on Congress to “make it easier and faster to close post offices.”
When asked by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) how many USPS facilities he thinks the USPS “really needs,” Herr said he “wouldn’t venture a guess.”
Ross also called on panelist Mike Winn, president of Greylock Associates, a firm that provides “consulting support to mail service providers and organizations that utilize the USPS,” and Joe Hete, President and CEO of Air Transport Services Group, a “leading provider of air cargo transportation.”
Hete’s invitation to testify at the hearing left many postal observers scratching their heads, as he has no postal experience. Nonetheless, he regaled the panel with a story about how his company gained profitability by reducing its workforce.
Hete claimed postal employees get paid too much compared to workers in the private sector, blaming employees’ salaries and benefits for the USPS’ “inability to meet its payroll in 2012.” He also suggested that the USPS restructure its union contracts, and called for elimination of the no-layoff clause.
Eight days after the hearing, Ross joined Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) in introducing postal “reform” legislation, H.R. 2309, which the APWU has condemned as a “reckless assault on postal workers and the Postal Service.”
NOT a ‘Bailout’
At a May 17 Senate hearing on the USPS financial crisis, Guffey stressed that the Postal Service doesn’t need a bailout.
“The Postal Service is very capable of dealing with the challenges it is facing because of declining mail volumes and a shift to electronic transmissions,” the union president told the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security.
“What it cannot sustain is the burden of the unique and unreasonable requirement that it pre-fund its retiree health benefits over a 10-year period,” he said, pointing out that no other government agency or private company bears this burden. He also noted that USPS pension accounts are overfunded by billions of dollars.
Guffey praised provisions of Sen. Carper’s “POST Act” (S. 1010) that would permit the USPS to use overpayments to its pension accounts to meet the pre-funding obligations, noting they would “give the Postal Service more than $5 billion in breathing room each year.”
But he also criticized several negative aspects of the bill. The proposed legislation would give the Postal Service authority to close post offices solely for financial reasons, and would require arbitrators to consider the financial health of the USPS when contract negotiations end in arbitration, he pointed out.
“Cutting service is not the answer to USPS financial difficulties,” Guffey said.
Urge Your Congressman to Support H.R.1351
APWU President Cliff Guffey is asking all union members to contact their legislators and urge them to oppose a bill introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL). The bill, H.R. 2309, is a reckless assault on postal employees and postal services, he said.
“Instead of slashing pay and benefits and closing facilities and post offices, Congress must address the underlying cause of the USPS financial crisis,” Guffey added.
Congress should allow the Postal Service to apply the billions of dollars in overpayments to its pension funds toward its financial obligations, including the obligation to pre-fund the health benefits of future retirees,” Guffey said. H.R. 1351, introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) would do just that.
“I ask all APWU members to contact their legislators and urge them to support H.R. 1351,” the union president said.
H.R. 1351, would correct the inequities in the Postal Service’s pension accounts, and would allow the USPS to use its overpayments toward its requirement to pre-fund future retiree health benefits – without slashing service.
“This important legislation will ensure a viable USPS in the future and protect jobs and service for the American people,” Guffey said.