Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME) of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee proposed her long-awaited version of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2005 in the U. S. Senate March 17, setting the stage for months of critical debate on major reform of the U.S. Postal Service. Her offering of S. 662 follows introduction of a similar bill (H.R. 22) with the same title in the House of Representatives earlier this year. Passage of the legislation would be the first significant reform in more than 30 years.
NALC President William H. Young said he welcomed introduction of Collins’ bill since it advances the cause of postal reform, a cause NALC has advocated for the past 10 years.
“I am especially pleased that the bill did not include any of the anti-labor measures proposed by the USPS Board of Governors,” Young said.
“The final push for postal reform has begun,” Young added. “NALC plans to be in the thick of things to ensure that letter carriers and their families will benefit from reform and that the Postal Service remains a strong, viable institution for decades to come.”
The new version of the Senate reform bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and George Voinovich (R-OH), resembles the version adopted unanimously by the Committee last year, but with some notable changes in the areas of postage rate indexing and financial transparency.
The bill would:
- Protect postal employees’ rights to collective bargaining while streamlining the impasse resolution process with mandatory mediation instead of the little-used fact finding procedure.
- Provide the Postal Service with greater flexibility to adjust the rates of competitive services and replace the current rate-making system for most USPS products with a price indexing system based on the Consumer Price Index.
- Repeal the escrow account provisions of the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) pension funding reform law, saving the USPS some $3 billion per year and return to the Treasury Department the liability for military pension benefits earned by former soldiers who now work for the USPS. Savings from these provisions would be partially directed toward financing unfunded postal retiree health benefit liabilities.
- Transform the Postal Rate Commission into the Postal Regulatory Commission giving it the power to subpoena evidence and investigate complaints.
- Increase the financial transparency of the USPS by subjecting it to certain Securities and Exchange Commission reporting requirements that normally apply to private companies with publicly traded stocks.
- Mandate changes in workers’ compensation benefits for postal employees, including a three-day waiting period before continuation of pay (COP) benefits commence under OWCP and the conversion into a retirement annuity at age 65 of workers’ compensation benefits earned by totally or partially disabled postal employees.
NALC opposes the workers’ compensation changes in the bill, but supports advancing postal reform through the Congress.
April 7 Hearing
Chairman Collins announced that her Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation April 7 at which Postmaster General John E. Potter and Comptroller General David Walker of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) are scheduled to testify.
“Mark-up” of the bill – the drafting of formal legislative language by the Committee followed by a vote to send it to the Senate floor – is expected to occur soon thereafter. Amendments, including those advocated by individual Committee members, the Bush administration and interest groups, could be debated at that time.
NALC and other postal stakeholders –- including the mailers, USPS competitors and other postal employee groups –- will be working to shape the bill as it advances through Congress. The union will vigorously defend the interests of letter carriers and pursue improvements in the bill throughout the legislative process.
“Our e-Activists and grassroots lobbyists – letter carriers who take part in various state legislative conferences here in Washington – will be invaluable to our efforts,” Young declared.
Although NALC is firmly committed to achieving comprehensive postal reform this year, its support for the proposals now pending before Congress will depend on the amendments adopted and the nature of the final bill that emerges from the legislative process.