“Tea Party” groups are building public and congressional support for H.R. 2309, legislation sponsored in the U.S. House of Representative by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Dennis Ross (R-FL) that APWU President Cliff Guffey has called “a reckless assault on postal workers and the Postal Service.”
One group, The Tea Party.net, claims to have generated more than 100,000 letters and email messages to lawmakers demanding passage of Issa’s bill. The group’s Web site provides scant information about the reasons for USPS financial problems or how the Ross-Issa bill would address them. Instead, it provides a link to a House Web page controlled by Issa that claims postal workers are overpaid and that the legislation would forestall a taxpayer “bailout” of the USPS.
Another conservative activist group, Citizens Against Government Waste, is also blaming “unmanageable labor costs” as well as “excess infrastructure” for USPS deficits. The organization has put members of Congress on notice that votes on H.R. 2309 “will be among those considered in CCAGW’s 2011 Congressional Ratings,” a legislative scorecard used to determine which members of Congress the organization deems worthy of re-election.
Neither group, however, informs visitors about the principal reason for USPS deficits: a congressional mandate imposed by Congress in the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) that requires the USPS to “pre-fund” healthcare benefits for future retirees at a cost of more than $5 billion per year for 10 years. This is a burden no other business or government agency is forced to bear. (The PAEA also prevents the Postal Service from raising postage costs to pay for this mandate.) Absent the pre-funding requirement, the Postal Service would have experienced a cumulative surplus of $611 over the last four years, despite the worst recession in many decades.
Nor do they mention that the federal government is holding billions of dollars of excess postal payments to FERS and CSRS. (The USPS has a surplus of $6.9 billion in its Federal Employee Retirement System account, and, according to two independent actuarial studies, has overpaid the Civil Service Retirement System account by $50 billion to $75 billion.)
Making Workers Pay
“The Ross-Issa bill would do nothing to correct USPS overpayments to its pension accounts or loosen the financial chokehold cause by the prefunding requirement,” Guffey said.
Instead, it holds USPS workers accountable for USPS financial problems.
H.R. 2309 would create a “solvency authority” with the power to unilaterally modify collective bargaining agreements any time the USPS defaults on “any obligation to the federal government for more than 30 days. “The solvency board would be empowered to cut wages, abolish benefits, and end our protection against layoffs,” the union president said.
In addition, he noted, the bill would increase employees’ costs for healthcare coverage and life insurance, and effectively eliminate the right to bargain over these benefits.
The Issa-Ross bill also would harm citizens and businesses by forcing up to $2 billion in postal office and facility closures.
A Far Better Bill
Meanwhile, postal unions and the postal business community are urging legislators to support H.R. 1351, a bill introduced by Rep. Steve Lynch (D-MA) that would allow the USPS to use the pension account overpayments to meet the retiree healthcare prefunding demand.
[Open Letter to Congress – PDF]
“It is a disservice to America that these groups are mobilizing their members to support H.R. 2309 without giving them a full account of the facts about the USPS financial crisis,” said APWU Legislative and Political Director Myke Reid.
“With misguided zeal, they are supporting legislation that would undermine a vital public service – the world’s largest, most trusted, most efficient, and least expensive postal system. We must ensure they don’t succeed.”