Senate Passes ‘Reform’ Bill
(This article first appeared in the March/April
2006 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
The Senate approved a postal reform bill by “unanimous consent” Feb. 9, taking reorganization of the USPS one step closer to reality. Before the legislation could be sent to President Bush, however, a conference committee must resolve differences between the Senate bill (S. 662) and a similar measure (H.R. 22) approved by the House of Representatives last summer.
The president opposes two key provisions of both the House and Senate bills and has threatened a veto if the final legislation presented to him includes them.
The future of the provisions – which are among the few that were embraced by unions, business mailers, and the USPS – remained uncertain following the Senate action.
One provision would release from escrow approximately $3 billion that the USPS saved by ending overpayments to the Civil Service Retirement System. Under federal budget accounting rules, releasing these funds to the Postal Service would make the deficit appear larger, which the Bush administration opposes. The other provision opposed by the White House would return military retirement-benefit obligations to the U.S. Treasury. No other federal agency is required to pay these costs.
The conference committee members will decide the fate of these and other contentious issues, perhaps behind closed doors.
“Our struggle now moves to a new stage,” said APWU President William Burrus. “A lot of mischief can be made in conference committees. We must be extremely vigilant.”
Published reports indicated that Sen. Susan Collins (RME), chairwoman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, was willing to consider changes to accommodate concerns about the effect on the federal budget.
“Without these provisions, the bills are worthless,” Burrus said. “They are the saving grace of the proposed legislation.”
In a Jan. 25 update to local and state leaders, Burrus reiterated the union’s longstanding opposition to other stipulations that would “give excessive authority to a Postal Regulatory Board and that would reduce Workers’ Compensation benefits.”
Once the conference committee reconciles the House and Senate versions, the bill will be returned to both chambers for another vote.
Senators who will serve on the joint committee are Collins and fellow Republicans Ted Stevens (AK), George Voinovich (OH), Norm Coleman (MN), and Bob Bennett (UT), and Democrats Joe Lieberman (CT), Tom Carper (DE), and Dan Akaka (HI).
As this issue of The American Postal Worker went to press, the House conferees had not yet been named and no date had been set for the first meeting of the joint committee.
Not the First Trip Up ‘The Hill’ for Reform
The U.S. Postal Service was last overhauled in 1970 with the passage of the Postal Reorganization Act. The law creating the federal agency (formerly the Post Office Department) gave postal workers the right to bargain collectively with their employer over wages, benefits, and working conditions.
In the last 35 years, many attempts have been made to restructure the Postal Service. The latest “reform” effort began in December 2002, when President Bush appointed a commission to recommend a wide range of changes to how the USPS operates, serves it customers, and treats its employees.
A July 2003 report served up an array of highly objectionable proposals. The presidential commission recommended cutting workers’ pay, eliminating the no-layoff clause, restricting collective bargaining, requiring unions to negotiate for healthcare and retirement benefits that are currently guaranteed by law, “outsourcing” more postal jobs, and increasing below-cost postage discounts for the mailing industry.
The APWU helped ensure that such provisions were not included in the legislation now pending before the conference committee.