From the Washington Post via PostCom:
The Washington Post recently posted an editorial on the Postal Service regarding the commencement of contract talks between two of the major postal unions and the U.S. Postal Service. The following is a letter to the editor written by Professor Murray Comarow, a long-time student of things postal:
Your editorial [Mail drop, 9-7-10] supporting the Postal Service’s efforts to reduce labor costs, will surely be blasted by the postal unions. William Burris is president of the American Postal Workers Union, the first of the four postal unions to negotiate a new labor contract. He said to delegates at a recent convention: “We can point with pride to the fact that our members were shielded from the tragic effects of layoffs and downsizing.”
The editorial refers to the Postal Service as “company.” It is not. It is, in the words of a July 29, 2010 report from the Congressional Research Service, “a self-supporting government agency that covers its operating costs with revenues generated through the sales of postage and related products and services.” USPS is not supported by taxpayers.
You refer to a “panel” of arbitrators that takes over when these is a management/union impasse. That is technically correct, but one panel member is selected by the union and one by management. The Chairman rules. His unappealable decision directs the distribution of almost 80 percent of postal revenues. To use the FY 2009 figure of $68.1 billion in revenues, that would amount to about $53.5 billion at his sole discretion of an individual who is not accountable to anyone.
No other federal agency, and to my knowledge, no major corporation, is forced by law to entrust most of its revenues to an arbitrator’s notion of fairness. A statute requiring the arbitration to take the service’s finances into account is not a “vital reform.” It’s more a feel-good provision, to which I would not object, but how would it be enforced? A survey of former arbitrators might be fun. “Did you consider the Service’s financial condition when you made your decision?” Response: “Of course. Both parties laid the situation out.”
The favored position of postal unions in respect to health premiums and life insurance is more extreme than the editorial indicates. USPS employees pay 20% of their health care premiums; other feds pay 28 percent. Life insurance is free for USPS employees; other feds pay 33% of the premium. What theory of poublic policy can support this?
The Postal Service may not be doing itself or its customers justice by its negotiating stance. Its chief labor executive, Anthony Vegliante, recently remarked that the last thing the USPS wants is arbitration becuase “then a third party is making decisions for you and your business.” Don’t think for a minute that the unions won’t exploit that. Their members reportedly average more than $80,000 a year in wages and benefits. It will take skill and determination to bring this down, even moderately.
The Postal Board of Governors has never formally recommended legislation that would revoke the arbitration provision, nor have mailers, to my everlasting astonishment. Both should have done so years ago.