The US Postal Service has received support from US Senators and major customers for its decision to proceed with dozens of mail plant closures over the summer.
But, trade unions said the modified network consolidation plan unveiled by USPS yesterday simply “more of the same”, only planned “drastic” cuts and service standard reductions would merely take longer.
In Congress, leading Senators on postal reform Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins and Tom Carper were all supportive of the need for USPS to downsize its network to respond to a 27% drop in First Class Mail volumes since 2006.
All three Senators had been assured by the Postmaster General that no mail plants would be closing in their home states.
Postal reform legislation that could affect mail plant closure plans, particularly a second phase from 2014, is currently stuck in the House of Representatives, with controlling Republicans so far showing little interest in moving the issue forward owing to their belief concerning the expected impact on the federal budget deficit.
Lieberman, the Independent from Connecticut, said the new USPS plan of moving more “cautiously” meant the House still had time to pass a bill to be reconciled with the Senate bill passed last month.
Carper, the Democrat from Delaware, said it wasn’t a surprise that Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe was moving forward with the plant closures considering USPS is “hemorrhaging” $25m a day at the moment.
But he said the closures were not enough to stem the losses, and that only comprehensive legislation from Congress could turn around the situation at USPS.
“Now it’s up to the House to pass a bill,” he said. “In the three weeks since the Senate acted, the Postal Service has lost over $500m – already wiping out nearly half of the savings today’s plan would achieve annually.
“Clearly the Postal Service can’t afford to wait any longer for Congress to pass a comprehensive plan.”
House Republicans have been highly critical of the bill passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate, saying it does not do enough to cut USPS operating costs. A group of rural Republicans are now understood to be working with proponents of the House postal bill, to incorporate measures to protect rural access to mail services while maintaining the Issa-Ross bill’s cost-cutting agenda.
Meanwhile, outside Capitol Hill the Postal Service customer lobby group Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service said yesterday that the modified plant consolidation plan was a “good first step” for USPS, which is projecting a $14bn annual loss this year.
Major customers are generally supportive of the need to reduce excess processing capacity at USPS, in order to keep postal rates down, though many are wary at the potential service standard changes that will come alongside consolidation efforts.
In the short term, mailers are being told by USPS that they will continue to enter mail at their current Business Mail Entry Units, though some changes could come with phase two consolidations in 2014, and earlier if the financial situation worsens at the Postal Service.
Under the modified plan, overnight delivery for First Class Mail will shrink to localised areas directly around processing plants. USPS says the move will still preserve 80% of First Class Mail overnight delivery.
Art Sackler, the Coalition’s coordinator said: “Some may disagree with the specific decisions that were made, but all should agree that the Postal Service must shrink to match its current and foreseeable volume of mail.”
Sackler said his group was now urging the House of Representatives to get back to debating its postal reform bill.
Postal unions were fairly dismissive of the new USPS consolidation plan, stating that it would still “destroy service, drive away customers, and weaken the USPS”.
The American Postal Workers Union said the new plan employed “the same essential strategy as the old plan”, by imposing big cuts to the processing network and eliminating tens of thousands of jobs, only taking longer to complete.
“This is essentially the same plan management proposed last fall. It will reduce the mail processing network by half,” said APWU president Cliff Guffey, who said USPS was disregarding the Senate’s request to hold of on plant closures until postal reform was completed by Congress.
Guffey also accused USPS of proceeding without the completion of the Advisory Opinion on service standard changes from the Postal Regulatory Commission, which is expected to take until August.
The union is now pressing its members to lobby their local US Representatives to push forward with postal reform – but to protect the USPS network against closures.
Guffey said: “We will not stand by while postal managers destroy the USPS. We will join with the American people and elected officials to stop them.”
The National Postal Mail Handlers Union said it was working closely with members affected by planned closures this summer, and was talking with USPS about the potential for early retirement incentives as the workforce is reduced by around 13,000 in the first phase of consolidation.
“We intend to work closely with those Locals affected by the August closings and consolidations,” said NPMHU president John Hegarty. “As always, it will be imperative that we enforce the contract to ensure that all mail handler rights are protected.”
Source: James Cartledge, Post&Parcel