The news keeps coming on that newly unveiled American Postal Workers Union contract. But the latest installment will likely not be welcome to members of any of the Postal Service’s four unions.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has just scheduled an April 5 hearing on postal pay and benefits and it looks like the tentative APWU deal will be the start of a longer conversation on USPS workforce costs. With those costs comprising about 80 percent of USPS operating expenses, “the union contract renewals are the best chance to find new savings,” committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said in a news release. “Unfortunately, this looks like a missed opportunity.”
“The Postal Service cannot afford to continue to pay, as their own numbers have estimated, a 34.2 percent wage premium over comparable private sector labor,” added Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., who chairs a Postal Service subcommittee. Ross said he was referring to 2003 figures presented by economist Michael Wachter to a presidential commission.
No witness list is out yet, but presumably someone pretty high up at the Postal Service will be on the hot seat. In announcing the proposed contract last week, U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe called it reasonable and added that it “will help lay a foundation that is fair to our employees and stakeholders.” So far, however, the agency has not released a public reckoning of the potential effects on its balance sheet.
The proposed 4-1/2-year contract still needs approval from the APWU’s rank-and-file; after sending out ballots next month, the union plans to count the votes May 11.
Although the agreement would create a two-tier wage structure—with new hires making less in some cases than existing postal employees—it does contain several small across-the-board salary increases and cost-of-living adjustments, according to the APWU. None would take effect this year. It’s hard to remember the last time—if ever–Congress got directly involved in critiquing a USPS labor contract. Then again, when was the last time the nation’s leading mail carrier was at risk of going broke?
And don’t forget, the Postal Service is still trying to hash out an accord with the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association to replace the contract that expired in November. Contracts with the agency’s two remaining unions–the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union–are up for renewal this November. If lawmakers want a place at the table, too, a tough job may have just gotten a whole lot tougher.