The USPS “has begun to travel resolutely down the road of privatization,” APWU President William Burrus told a Senate subcommittee on July 25, “without authorization from Congress” — or the American people. The subcontracting of postal work, he warned, “is just one aspect of a dangerous trend: the wholesale conversion of a vital public service to one performed privately for profit.”
Burrus called on the Senate to act. “On the critical issue of privatization of the United States Postal Service,” he said, “it is imperative that Congress take a stand and insist on its right — its responsibility — to set public policy.”
“For more than a decade,” Burrus told the subcommittee, “virtually all of the legislative focus on the United States Postal Service was based on the belief that absent radical reform, this great institution faced imminent demise.” Because the APWU viewed the postal reform drive as “a veiled attempt to undermine collective bargaining,” the union did not support the legislation, Burrus said. “However, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act has become law, and we promise to lend our best effort to making it work.”
But some proponents of the law are now active behind the scenes, “on the unfinished business of the reform mania — the subcontracting of postal services,” Burrus told the Senate Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information, Federal Services, and International Security.
In testimony [PDF] before the panel, he shared the words of a mailing-industry spokesman who was quoted in the Washington Post on July 7: “In the not too distant future, the Postal Service could evolve into something which could be called the master contractor, where it maintains its government identity, but all the services would be performed by private contractors.”
The Postal Service has adopted a business model that is designed to privatize mail processing, transportation, maintenance, and delivery, the union president told the subcommittee. This strategy “is especially troubling in view of the Postal Service’s statutory obligations to military veterans, and its responsibility to provide career opportunities for all postal employees,” he said.
Despite these concerns, Burrus urged lawmakers to refrain from intervening in specific subcontracting disputes, encouraging them instead to enact legislation compelling the Postal Service to bargain over the issue. Legislators should avoid substituting their judgment for that of the parties who are directly involved and who are best suited to make the decisions and compromises that are required, he said.
Burrus described the Postal Service as “a private investor’s dream: a tax-exempt, public monopoly, with revenues of $80 billion per year.” Eager businessmen anticipate the opportunity to divide the pieces of the U.S. Postal Service among themselves, he said, for substantial private financial gain.
“Perhaps the most insidious example of the march to privatization,” the APWU president testified, “is the operation of the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, a panel composed of high-ranking postal officials and mailing industry moguls. At closed-door meetings, top-level postal officials entertain policy recommendations by the nation’s biggest mailers.” Despite “government in the sunshine” laws, Burrus noted, “the public is excluded from its deliberations, as are individual consumers, small businesses, and, of course, labor unions.”
“At these secret meetings,” Burrus said, “schemes are being hatched to convert work performed by the USPS to private, for-profit entities.”
Along with the Consumer Alliance for Postal Services, the APWU has filed a lawsuit challenging the operations of MTAC, which for years has worked in relative obscurity. “Under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, it should be fairly easy to find out which postal policies and programs originated with the industry representatives in MTAC,” Burrus asserted. “The Advisory Committee Act requires that committee meetings be open to the public and that minutes of meetings be available.
“However,” he noted, “when the APWU sought to send a representative to attend MTAC meetings, our participation was barred.” During the same period, MTAC stopped posting its minutes on the Internet and refused to provide copies for public use, Burrus pointed out, although the committee recently began posting minutes of its meetings again.
“The secrecy of this powerful advisory committee has now taken on an even more ominous tone,” especially given that the 2006 postal reform law mandates that the Postal Service publish new service standards in consultation with the new Postal Regulatory Commission. Burrus called it “a matter of grave concern” that rather than waiting for formal proposals from the Postal Service, the PRC has sent invited representatives to attend secret MTAC meetings where Postal Service policy is being developed in concert with large mailers.
Congress must assert its authority and set public policy, Burrus said. “What is at stake is whether an independent federal agency that performs a vital public service should be handed over to private, for-profit enterprises.”
Burrus was joined on the witness panel by the presidents of the other three postal employee unions, each of whom voiced similar concerns about USPS contracting policies. A separate panel comprised of postmasters’ and supervisors’ association representatives also gave their views on contracting issues.
|John Hegarty [View PDF] , President , National Postal Mail Handlers Union|
|Donnie Pitts [View PDF] , President , National Rural Letter Carriers Association|
|William Young [View PDF] , President , National Association of Letter Carriers|
|Louis Atkins [View PDF] , Executive Vice President , National Association of Postal Supervisors|
|Dale Goff [View PDF] , President , National Association of Postmasters of the United States|