Advocates of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) — legislation that has brought the USPS to the brink of insolvency — are now asserting that labor agreements are a major contributor to the agency’s expected deficit of $7 billion in Fiscal Year 2009. Such a suggestion would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so high.
The PAEA requires the USPS to make payments of more than $5 billion each year for 10 years to prefund retiree healthcare benefits during the worst recession in 70 years — a requirement no private company or federal agency bears. But rather than correct the problem, supporters of the legislation are now attempting to shift the focus from the colossal blunder: They prefer to discuss reducing mail delivery to five days per week and management strategies for employee assignments.
These subterfuges seek to shift attention from the decision to impose unreasonable costs on the Postal Service during an economic crisis that has caused mail volume to decline at historic rates. The PAEA payment schedule would have required the Postal Service to increase revenue and savings at an unreasonable rate of 7 percent per year just to avoid a deficit. No public or private entity has achieved such a high level of growth during this difficult economic environment.
To redirect the public’s focus, attention is now shifted to five-day delivery, despite the fact that in testimony before Congress the postmaster general said that no savings would be generated from five-day delivery until 2011, and even then savings would be mitigated by the cost of inviting competition on the abandoned delivery day.
The most recent distraction is a focus on the reported $50 million in costs associated with compensating employees for non-productive “standby” time. Postal management and the unions have responded to the imbalance between workers and mail volume through an agreement to offer incentives over two fiscal years to encourage employee complement reduction.
APWU proposed the use of incentives in 2007 when mail volume began its descent, but management wasted two years and thousands of hours in unproductive time before deciding to invest modest amounts today to generate major savings tomorrow. Attrition achieved through these incentives will help eliminate the imbalance between human resources and mail volume.
The creators of the deficit dilemma also seek to turn the delay in complement adjustment into evidence that postal arbitrators are to blame for workers’ job security. This ignores the history of contractual agreements between union and management on the issues of job security. Of the six instances of contract arbitration, not a single arbitrator rendered a decision that restricted the Postal Service from complement adjustment on a day-to-day basis. The arbitrated contracts were achieved through the give-and-take of free collective bargaining, including items favorable to both parties. I invite the critics of postal arbitrators to review those six arbitration decisions before arriving at faulty conclusions.
The most egregious omission in this blame game is the silence on postal rate policies that forgive postage in amounts as high as 10.5 cents per letter for mailers to perform the exact functions that would be performed by underutilized postal employees. The very workers who process mail at a cost of less than one cent per letter are replaced by 10.5 cent workshare discounts, yet pundits focus their attention on postal workers and arbitrators.
Something is wrong with this picture.