Postal Service backs off plan to end Saturday mail

The U.S. Postal Service has backed off of its plan to end Saturday mail delivery, for now.

On April 10, the Postal Service Board of Governors overruled Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s plan to go to five-day mail delivery. Donahoe announced in February that Saturday mail pickup and delivery would end, starting Aug. 5.

The announcement was met with stiff resistance from postal unions and some lawmakers, who said language in Congress’ “continuing resolution” to fund government operations required six-day mail. [USPS receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.]

Rallies to keep Saturday mail delivery were held nationwide, including the streets of Portland, where some 600 people marched on St. Patrick’s Day.

Following a closed meeting on April 10, the postal board restated its support for a change to five-day delivery, but effectively conceded that the postmaster general’s claim that he could ignore the continuing resolution was wrong.

In a press statement, USPS said that “although disappointed with this congressional action, the board will follow the law and has directed the Postal Service to delay implementation of its new delivery schedule until legislation is passed that provides the Postal Service with the authority to implement a financially appropriate and responsible delivery schedule.”

Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), said “postal unions were gratified the board “has seen the light on the law, but it is time for them to reconsider their entire ‘shrink to survive’ strategy.”

USPS has already shuttered 114 mail sorting centers, with another 75 slated for closure this year. Nearly 170,000 jobs have been eliminated since 2006.

Postal unions are lobbying Congress to pass reforms that will grow service, not cut it. They say USPS’ biggest financial problem stems from congressionally-mandated prepayment of future retirees’ health care costs covering the next 75 years. The mandate, which is not required by any other government agency or private business, sets USPS back $5.5 billion a year.

At the same time USPS said it would continue Saturday delivery, it  asked all postal unions to re-open their contracts for concessionary bargaining.

Three of four unions were forced to go to binding arbitration within the last year, after USPS refused to come to terms on contracts that expired in 2010 and 2011. The most recent was in February, with the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, a division of the Laborers. NALC and the National Rural Letter Carriers Association received interest arbitration awards in January 2013 and July 2012, respectively.  Members of the American Postal Workers Union ratified a contract in 2011.

For the most part, arbitrators rejected USPS’s proposals to freeze pay, eliminate cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs), contract out work, and impose a two-tier wage schedule.

The Mail Handlers Union said it would support any USPS moves to increase revenue, including rate hikes “across all products not covering their costs.”

The Mail Handlers and NALC have made the point for years that first-class mail, which is profitable even in a recession, is subsidizing bulk mail. But the postal board and management has catered to the bulk mailers, letting them ship their mailings at below cost.

“To the extent, however, that the board is directing management to ‘reopen negotiations with the postal unions to lower total workforce costs,’ the pursuit of such an alternative is unlikely to be successful,” the Mail Handlers warned.

And the fight on Saturday isn’t over: Rolando said  President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for the year starting Oct. 1 wants to shut Saturday service, too.

(Editor’s Note: Press Associates Inc. contributed to this report.)

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