Even as it works overtime to disrupt the national debate on health care reform, the radical right is taking advantage of the chaos to quietly destroy yet another public service Americans take for granted – the United States Postal Service.
Working through Sen. Thomas Coburn, R-Okla., they have rolled a huge boulder onto the road lawmakers are taking to close a $7 billion budget deficit hanging over the agency for the year ending Sept. 30.
Coburn attached a killer amendment, just before the Senate’s August recess, to legislation that would grant the Postal Service the $5 billion it needs to cover health care costs for retirees. Without the legislation the agency says that on Sept. 1 it will have to fire more than 50,000 workers, close down hundreds of post offices and kill Saturday pickup and delivery.
The right-wing amendment effectively squashes the collective bargaining rights of the entire Postal Service workforce by ordering arbitrators to place the fiscal condition of the Postal Service ahead of any contractual obligations the agency has to its workers or retirees.
The law, as amended by Coburn, would allow the Postal Service, for example, to withhold a $5.4 billion payment it must make within a month to cover retiree health care costs.
The postal worker unions are warning that attachment of the Coburn amendment to the rescue bill forces them to withdraw their earlier support for the legislation.
“The Coburn amendment serves only to upset collective bargaining procedures,” said Bill Burrus, president of the American Postal Service Workers Union.
The new Letter Carriers president, Frederic Rolando, told senators in a hearing just before the recess, that his union also could not support a bill containing the Coburn amendment.
Witnesses at the Aug. 6 Senate hearing pointed out that health care costs are only part of the problems the agency faces.
Mail volume has dropped by 12 percent in the last year and the drop is expected to reach 16 percent by the end of fiscal 2009, in September, according to the Government Accounting Office.
Postmaster General John Potter told senators that the USPS has lost much of its volume because of the Internet.
Potter, who was named by a GOP-appointed Postal Board during the Bush administration, has proposed cuts in the workforce as the solution. He says that at least 677 post offices should be closed, most of them in major cities, and that 55,000 workers should be fired.
The USPS workforce, the unions note, has already shrunk, through retirements and buyouts, to 603,000 workers, from 773,000 several years ago.
The unions are saying there is a better way than job cuts.
Both union leaders are angry about the radical right amendment to the rescue bill because they have already been working with USPS management on money-saving plans.
The Letter Carriers and the agency, for example, are reviewing 168,000 city letter carrier routes, examining them for possible consolidations.
Senators at the Aug. 6 hearing were non-committal on the Coburn amendment.
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Ind., Conn., was among the group of supposedly pro-labor Democrats who weren’t saying too much.
He asked Rolando and Burrus to submit conditions they would attach to any arbitrations.
Both restated their opposition to the anti-labor amendment attached by Coburn but declined to offer any others.