The Threat of Privatization – From Within

Greg Bell
APWU Executive Vice President

(This article was first published in the November/December 2011 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Postal workers are under constant attack by the forces of privatization. Unfortunately, this group includes the Postmaster General, members of the Board of Governors, some members of Congress and others.

Privatization is a clear and present danger — facility by facility, operation by operation, and job by job.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the Postmaster General for the recognition that he has earned — as an advocate of privatization of postal services.

Like so many postal workers, I am outraged that the PMG submitted legislative proposals to Congress in August that would abrogate our contract — less than four months after he signed it.

The Postal Service’s proposals seek to eliminate our protection against layoffs, and were accompanied by the announcement that the USPS planned to reduce the workforce by 220,000, and would need to lay off approximately 120,000 workers to reach that goal. The PMG also proposed to remove postal workers from the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program and federal retirement programs – which would provide a major pathway toward privatization of the Postal Service.

Yet earlier this year, the Postal Service, postal unions and management associations all recognized that we should focus our efforts on legislation that would allow the Postal Service to apply billions of dollars in pension overpayments to the congressional mandate that requires the USPS to prefund 75 years of healthcare benefits for future retirees in a 10-year period.

So what happened?

Issa’s Bill

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is what happened.

In June 2011, Rep. Issa introduced a bill (H.R 2309) that constitutes an irresponsible attack on postal workers and the Postal Service. The bill was designed to drastically reduce service to the American people by establishing a commission that would order billions of dollars worth of post office closures and facility closures within two years. This bill would enhance further contracting out of mail processing and retail services to the private sector.

The bill also 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.” In addition, the board would be empowered to cut wages, abolish benefits, and end our protection against layoffs.

Furthermore, at the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreements, it would increase employees’ costs for healthcare coverage and life insurance; eliminate the right to bargain over these benefits, and allow the USPS to end Saturday delivery.
Downhill on Issa’s Bandwagon

So what about the Postmaster General? Somewhere along the road, it appears he made a right turn — downhill on Issa’ bandwagon.

The PMG’s treacherous actions against postal workers and their unions didn’t end with the proposals announced in August.

On Sept. 21, a House subcommittee approved Rep. Issa’s Postal “Destruction” Act, and on Oct. 13, the full Committee on Oversight and Government Reform passed the bill. Before each vote, Rep. Issa amended the bill to include additional provisions that are even more outrageous than those contained in the original legislation.

Unfortunately, the PMG’s fingerprints are all over the bill — which is designed to restrict collective bargaining and dismantle the United States Postal Service so that it will be ripe for privatization.

In addition to establishing a control board to carry out layoffs, the amended bill would prohibit the union and the Postal Service from negotiating protections against layoffs in the future.

The bill also would negatively affect workers who are injured on duty. It includes a provision that would cut the monthly compensation of totally disabled employees from 66.66 percent to 50 percent once they meet the age and service requirements for retirement. It also would force disabled employees to retire as soon as they are eligible.

Our Work

We have our work cut out for us. We must ensure that Congress rejects H.R. 2309.

Despite the PMG’s treachery, we must focus our efforts on saving America’s Postal Service. The first order of business is getting Congress to correct the requirement to pre-fund the healthcare benefits of future retirees, which forces the USPS to fund a 75-year liability in a period of just 10 years. The USPS must be allowed to use the billions of dollars in pension overpayments to meet its financial obligations.

Massive job cuts, reductions in service, extensive closures of post offices and mail processing facilities, and tampering with collective bargaining are unnecessary and unjustified.

Click here for news about the Sept. 27, 2011 Save America’s Postal Service rallies.
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Sept. 27 Rallies

I would like to thank everyone who participated in the rallies on Sept. 27 to Save America’s Postal Service, especially those officers, stewards and activists who worked so hard on such short notice to organize the events. There were close to 500 rallies on the same day — at least one in nearly every congressional district in the country.

This is the first time that the four unions, the APWU, the National Association of Letter Carriers, National Postal Mail Handlers Union and National Rural Letter Carriers Association, joined together for a common cause. If we are to be successful, it cannot be the last. Even the National Association of Postal Supervisors went on record in support of the rallies.

Thanks to your efforts, more than 220 U.S. representatives are co-sponsoring H.R. 1351, the bill introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) that would allow the USPS to use pension fund overpayments to offset future retiree health care fund liabilities. Unfortunately, having a majority of representatives co-sponsor a bill is not a guarantee that it will pass – or even come up for a vote.

We are fighting for our lives, against those who would destroy us. It is crucial that APWU members stay active and participate.

 

  • jo

    Management wants privatization?The should be careful about what they wish for because more than half of them would be gone.

  • Snap!

    It is not the inexorable march of technology that has made the paper mail system borderline obsolete. The service is viable but only in a much narrower scope such as delivering packages ordered online to areas not served by private firms. The unions have inflated costs in collusion with weak management to the point of sustainability. Due to advances in mechanization in the past 30 years, no skill or knowledge is required to sort or deliver mail. A similar strike today as was done in the 1970s would not see mail service disrupted at all. A cadre of minimum wage replacements with basic instruction could have the system back to full speed with a week. This is the crux of the issue. Premium pay for minimum skill work and no flexibility to adjust anything in the workforce (i.e. personnel location, hours, work, etc.) has caused the service to begin to lose money. PAEA is not a cause of the problems, it only expedited and magnified the effect which has been approaching. Things have to change and they will either voluntarily or under edict from the government.

  • M. Jamison

    Snap!, how exactly have the unions inflated costs? The unions negotiate within a legal structure and no autonomous influence on costs. I’ll grant you the weak management argument though since it is their failure to articulate a vision for the network that didn’t rely solely on volume but on finding new utilities for the asset.
    Your assertion that automation would result in easy replacement of the existing work force is unprovable but it does fit the right wing narrative quite nicely as does the view of a privatized post.
    The insistence that the provision of the public goods is no different than the delivery of other goods in the market is a view that suits those that see government as an impediment. The post and the services that it provides via the infrastructure of the postal network can still be an essential mechanism of growth.
    Things must change but not without recognition that the periods of highest growth and the most successful advances of the middle-class in this country were when labor was strongest.

  • Hubert Escarpeta

    The postal service does not need a bailout, nor does it need congress to steal from it’s revenue in the form of prefunding requirements. The postal service can and should make some changes in it’s managerial policies. The change must start at the top and trickle down in this case. Employees will only do what management allows. However if management is bent toward destroying the potal service you will not see any substanstial change, rather you will see them pointing fingers at the union and the work force. since we need to make changes to the postal system, the salary structure(since this is a major issue), let’s begin with the board of governors, postmaster, exec managers, etc. and all the bonuses, stocks incentives unless it’s also offered to the work force equally. Ths is the starting point. Let’s amend the expectation of how workers are retained or fired. competently. this is a start.

  • craft director

    Our supervisors were told by the managers that they should not attend the September 27 rallies.

  • DGA

    I am tired of the whole thing Just let me retire with respect and dignity and a buyout to boot and I am out of there Good work PMG Donahoe, You were once a clerk too!!!!! APWU all the way Leave the PO along We are in the Constitution and we are a public service company unlike FEDEX and UPS Government should stay out of our business We already have a ratified contract