Bipartisan legislation introduced to repeal USPS pre-funding mandate

Close-up of the Capitol’s dome with the US flag
On April 28, Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Tom Reed (R-NY), Xochitl Torres Small (D-NM), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) introduced the USPS Fairness Act (H.R. 2382) which would repeal the mandate that USPS “pre-fund” decades’ worth of health benefits for its future retirees, enacted through the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) of 2006.As letter carriers know, the pre-funding mandate has cost an average of $5.4 billion annually since 2007 and is responsible for 92 percent of USPS losses over the last twelve years, and 100 percent of losses over the past six years. Were this burden not imposed, USPS would have recorded surpluses of nearly $4.0 billion since 2013.

Instead, the mandate has prevented the Postal Service from properly investing in its networks and infrastructure since it was enacted and even worse, the resulting financial losses are still used to both threaten core services that Americans rely on — such as door-to-door service, six-day delivery, and convenient post office hours – and to advance proposals to privatize the Postal Service and attack the jobs and rights of America’s postal employees.

As the heart of a $1.4 trillion mailing industry that employs 7.5 million Americans, the Postal Service links more than 159 million American households and businesses to each other seven days a week. It is essential to our nation’s voting systems and to multiple industries, communities and populations, including e-commerce; prescription drugs; the nation’s paper, publishing, and advertising businesses; and to millions of small businesses and tens of millions of citizens in rural, suburban, and urban communities across the country.

“NALC applauds Reps. DeFazio, Reed, Torres Small, and Fitzpatrick for introducing this bipartisan legislation as a crucial first step toward bringing financial stability to the most trusted and highest-rated agency in the federal government,” said NALC President Fredric Rolando. “The USPS is a national treasure and an essential part of the nation’s economic infrastructure. Congress caused this crisis when it passed the PAEA in 2006 and Congress can begin to fix it by passing the USPS Fairness Act.”

Should this legislation progress through the House and Senate, and then be signed into law, it will significantly improve the financial situation at the Postal Service. NALC is committed to working with Congress on any and all options that can bring financial stability to this agency so that it can then focus on much needed improvements to its networks and infrastructure (i.e. fleet replacement), as well as developing new and existing products and services.

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Union says mail carrier shortages are hampering delivery service

The Portland branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers says the tight labor market and changes in what the post office delivers are causing the staffing issues that affect deliveries.

Union leaders say the U.S. Postal Service and its persistent labor shortage might be causing some residents to miss their regular mail deliveries.

The Portland post office – which serves the city and surrounding communities – is understaffed, union officials say.

It has 187 carriers now, about 25 fewer than it needs for a preferred staffing level, said Mark Seitz, president of the local branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers. He said a lengthy hiring process, a tight labor market, a hierarchy that divides jobs between new and veteran letter carriers, and the changing nature of the work make it difficult to keep the post office fully staffed.

“They can’t hire them fast enough,” Seitz said, noting the problem is widespread throughout the country. “There are days when there are a handful of routes that don’t go out because we just don’t have the people.”

But Steve Doherty, a spokesman for the post office in the service’s Northeast district, said the Portland office has “adequate staffing” and “non-delivery issues in the Portland area are rare.” He declined to provide specifics about how many deliveries are not made.

Hiring in Portland continues, he said, but the regional post office has a below-average turnover rate of about 1.6 percent of carrier assistants, the entry-level carrier position. The national rate, he said, is 3 percen

That shift is showing up in the Postal Service’s financial numbers. It lost $3.2 billion in its last fiscal year, which ended in September 2018, and had outstanding debt of $13.2 billion, reflecting a deep financial crunch. In the last three months of 2018, the post office handled 14.8 billion pieces of first class mail, a decline of 428 million pieces from the same quarter a year before.

A postal workers union president says the Portland post office has 187 carriers, about 25 fewer than it needs for a preferred staffing level. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

At the same time, package deliveries have spiked as more people do their shopping online. Package and shipping volume jumped 8.7 percent last fall and early winter, the post office reported, bringing in $500 million more in revenue compared to the same period in 2017.

But that wasn’t enough, as the post office lost $1.5 billion in the quarter because of increases in wages and benefits, higher gasoline prices and an accounting charge-off to deal with higher workers’ compensation expenses.

CHANGING JOBS

Doherty said the post office is responding to a changing marketplace by adjusting “delivery methods, routes of travel and even the types of vehicles in our fleet to accommodate both growth in the number of deliveries and the shift to more packages.

Postal carrier John Graham delivers mail on Wednesday along Ray Street, part of his North Deering route. Staffing shortages at the Post Office have caused delays in mail delivery for some residents in southern Maine. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

In addition, route sizes have grown, he said, making it more difficult for many carriers to complete their routes before time limits force them to return to the post office. That’s why some residents don’t get mail for a few days, Seitz said.

Hiring is complicated by an unemployment rate in Maine that has been below 4 percent for more than three years.

Doherty said new hires are told that they might be required to work weekends, holidays and “possibly some longer than eight-hour days.”

But that’s also the case for career carriers, such as John Graham, who has been working for the post office for 16 years and delivers mail in Portland.

Graham said he’s taken on overtime and works 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week

But those who stick with it and make it to career carrier are well-rewarded.

“There’s not too many careers out there that have a retirement package,” he said, and “there’s not too many jobs that pay $30 an hour once you get to the top tier.”

He also cited steady work and job security as advantages in the job.

“The work just keeps on coming,” he said.

Doherty said the post office is hiring, looking for more carrier assistants in Portland, although they may be shifted to another office based on needs. He said that new hires who decide the job isn’t for them usually make that decision quickly, often within the first 90 days.

“Many new employees will go on to lengthy careers with the Postal Service,” he said. But many of those who have had those long careers are near retirement age, he said. As they leave their jobs, the assistants can move up to career positions, he said.

But Seitz said it’s difficult to convince the assistants to stay on, and the slow hiring process means gaps in staffing are ongoing. He said the unions are pushing for all assistants to make career level after 30 weeks, but the post office’s executives are resisting that to keep a lid on the number of better-compensated, career-level workers.

He also said the post office used to monitor the routes and change them if some grew too large, but those reviews haven’t happened for about five years.

As the package delivery part of the service grows more lucrative, it becomes a priority, Seitz said. During the holidays, it’s not unusual for a postal truck to get filled with packages, make the deliveries, then return to be filled with other mail and make a second round of deliveries. Seitz said that means regular deliveries can get squeezed.

 

 

 

 

 

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Postal Employees and Retirees See Threats to Pay and Benefits in White House Budget

21-2019

03/29/2019The White House released its plans for the fiscal year 2020 budget this month. It once again attacks workers, calling for deep cuts to salaries, retirement and health benefits. It also echoes parts of the Postal Task Force December 2018 report that calls for the elimination of union negotiated collective bargaining rights over pay, creating a postal employee pay system similar to what is seen in the federal workforce.

Further mirroring the Postal Task Force report, the budget calls for privatization of the Postal Service in part, including outsourcing processing and sortation to private companies, and providing access to mailboxes to third parties.

“The cuts in the current White House budget proposal clearly come at the expense of postal employees, retirees, and the American people,” President Mark Dimondstein said. “Similar attacks on postal workers and universal postal service were also seen in the June 2018 report from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in which the White House proposes to sell the Postal Service to the highest corporate bidder.”

“APWU members must remain vigilant, organized and unified in defense of the public Postal Service and the rights of postal workers,” President Dimondstein continued.

In addition, the budget also attacks our wages and benefits through:

  • ‘High Three’ to a ‘High Five’

The White House budget recommends basing retirement annuities on the average highest five years of salary instead of the current high three, resulting in a decreased annuity payment.

  • Changes to COLAs for FERS and CSRS Retirees

Postal retirees under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS) would see a total elimination of cost of living adjustments (COLAs) under the budget plan, and those in the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) would see a 0.5 percent reduction of COLAs.

  • Elimination of FERS Annuity Supplement

Current FERS retirees who left service before Social Security eligibility qualify for an annuity supplement. This would be eliminated for new retirees.

  • Increases to postal employee contributions to FERS

FERS enrollees will see an increase of their contributions by one percent over six years. By doing so, employee and employer contributions will be equally divided.

  • Changes to the G Fund

The Thrift Savings Plan’s (TSP) G Fund interest rate would be modified under the Trump Administration’s endorsed budget. Proposed changes would lower the rate to under one percent. This would only possibly save the federal government $16.5 billion over 10 year, and make the G Fund virtually worthless for those TSP participants.

  • Changes to Retirement Services & Healthcare Administration

The management and administration of both retirement reservices and healthcare will move from the duties of the Office of Personnel Management to the General Services Administration.

For this budget plan to come to fruition, it would have to be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. The Senate Budget Committee released its budget plan for fiscal year 2020 on March 22. In it, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is requested to develop $15 billion in savings. This would most likely come in the form of reductions to employee health care benefits.

The House Budget Committee has yet to release its fiscal year 2020 plan. Votes on past plans to cut pay and benefits did not pass in either the House or Senate.

It is important to be aware of these threats and to raise your objections to your lawmakers.

“APWU will continue to meet with elected officials, on both sides of the aisle, reminding them of the value of the work of postal and federal workers to this nation,” said Legislative & Political Director Judy Beard. “Retirees should live with respect; receiving COLAs and annuities that should be increased, not cut. Federal budgets should lift workers and communities up, not tear them down.”

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