Postal union hires top Obama advisor to aid USPS rescue

The union representing America’s urban and suburban mail carriers has hired a former advisor to President Obama to boost its input in the reform of the US Postal Service. The National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) revealed yesterday that it has retained the services of Ron Bloom, Obama’s former top advisor on manufacturing.

Bloom left the White House in August, after helping to engineer a US automotive industry bailout in 2009 and the subsequent restructuring of bankrupt car makers Chrysler and GM. At the time, he had faced claims he was giving the auto industry unions “favourable treatment”.

The letter carriers’ union, which represents 280,000 members, also retained the services of investment bank Lazard Group to bolster its lobbying as Congress, the White House and the USPS itself seek a way to fill a potential $20bn gap in the annual Postal Service budget expected by 2014.

Bloom did work for Lazard from the mid-1980s until forming his own investment banking firm in 1990. His work for Lazard had included representing unions whose members were involved in corporate bankruptcies, including those in the United Steelworkers and pilots in the Airline Pilots Association.

NALC president Frederic V Rolando said Lazard and Bloom both had “extensive” experience revitalising large and complex businesses.

Rolando promised a “fact-based, non-political, non-ideological” effort to work with USPS, Congress and other postal stakeholders on resolving the current cash flow problems at the Postal Service.

But he insisted: “The nation’s carriers are committed to preserving six-day-a-week universal postal services to every address in every village, town and city of the nation.”

Super committee

Rolando wrote a letter on Friday to the Congressional “super committee” currently working on a $3 trillion national deficit plan, which looks likely to include provisions to help USPS.

He urged the super committee to “fix” the Postal Service’s unique requirement to pay $5.5bn a year for future retiree healthcare benefits, and hand back surplus funds in the USPS pension pots.

The NALC president’s seven-point plan also urged the super-committee to protect six-day-a-week delivery, arguing that eliminating Saturday deliveries would only bring “modest” savings.

“The proposals I have outlined will allow the Postal Service to regain its financial footing without the need for a dime of taxpayer money,” Rolando insisted.

Negotiations

The retention of its new financial advisors also comes as NALC negotiates with the Postal Service for a new collective bargaining agreement, a process that has been ongoing since August. The current five-year deal ends on 20 November.

The negotiation took on a particularly difficult tone when USPS issued white papers in August requesting help from Congress to break lay-off protection clauses within an agreement it made with another union – the American Postal Workers Union – just months before.

USPS needs to change its labour contracts because mail volumes and revenues have been declining much more rapidly than expected over the summer. It wants to reduce its work force by up to 220,000, although hopes many of the losses can come through attrition.

However, the timing of its suggestion of breaking lay-off clauses so soon after inking the APWU deal left a somewhat ugly taste in the mouths of all US postal unions. The lay-off protections had been a key measure won by the union in exchange for giving the Postal Service more flexibility to use part-time workers to cut costs.

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