Relief for USPS, heartburn for unions


There’s an interesting discrepancy between the House and Senate bills that would provide the Postal Service with short-term relief from some of its retiree health care obligations (background here if you’re not familiar with the issue).

On the House side is HR 22, one of the simplest pieces of legislation I’ve ever read. It gives the Postal Service three years of relief from its current retiree health benefit obligations — period.

On the Senate side, there’s S 1507. It calls for a similar change in the Postal Service’s health care payment schedule. But it also includes an amendment that changes the way arbitrators handle negotiations over postal contracts.

Right now the arbitrators are bound by a “comparability” clause, which requires them to align postal wages and benefits with those of private-sector employees who do similar work.

The amendment to S 1507 would also add a “financial health” clause — requiring the arbitrators to consider the financial well-being of the Postal Service in setting wages and benefits. With the Postal Service in, shall we say, poor financial health, the amendment could make it harder for the unions to negotiate some of their perks (cost-of-living increases, no-layoff clauses) in the next round of collective bargaining. (All of the major unions have such negotiations within the next 18 months.)

Needless to say, the unions aren’t happy. But the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee approved the bill, amendment and all, by an 11-1 vote.

It’s scheduled to come to a vote before the full Senate this week; we’ll keep you posted.


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