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The NALC responds to a USPS press release regarding its contract negotiations with two unions

A press release put out Sunday by the United States Postal Service is full of spin and distortions aimed at influencing public opinion. The National Association of Letter Carriers wants its members to know that we are responding to press inquiries regarding the USPS release as follows:

The release, which addresses the status of negotiations with two unions, contains significant misinformation in a variety of areas. We recognize that the USPS faces major challenges that need to be addressed to secure its future, but this cannot be done responsibly if one party engages in blatant and self-serving attempts to mislead people.

While we have no involvement in these particular negotiations, on a broader level misinformation about important issues must be addressed, lest people accept it as valid. Here are a few examples of the misleading statements.

In what is presented as an objective depiction of the negotiating process with the American Postal Workers Union and the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, the Postal Service writes that in the event of an impasse, "An arbitrator determines the final outcome and is not legally required to consider the Postal Service's financial obligations when rendering a decision."

This is nonsense, because arbitrators are required to consider all evidence presented by the parties. Since the USPS always presents information on its financial situation, its finances always are considered. The press release phrasing is a thinly disguised attempt to prompt congressional meddling in the traditional labor-management process by legislation that would insert one-sided language favoring the Postal Service's positions—a terrible precedent. We don't think it's the role of Congress to get involved on behalf of either side, including ours.

The Postal Services spins the issue of eliminating Saturday delivery by claiming that the public favors 5-day delivery over using taxpayer funds and other alternatives. In fact, as the USPS well knows, the Postal Service has not used a dime of taxpayer money for 25 years, and no one is proposing that it do so now.

What is being proposed, both by us and by the Postal Service, is an internal transfer of surplus pension funds to cover the $5.5 billion in annual pre-funding of future retiree health benefits, resulting from a 2006 congressional mandate. No other institution in America, public or private, is obligated to pre-fund future benefits at all, let alone at the aggressive schedule imposed on the USPS by Congress. Nonetheless, if Congress allows the Postal Service to make this transfer of its own money realized from the sale of products and services the financial status of the USPS would improve markedly. How much? Instead of losing money, the Postal Service would have realized a net profit of $700 million the past four years, even with the worst recession in 80 years.

How would the public respond if the question was whether people would rather lose a day of mail service and see 80,000 people thrown into unemployment, to realize a relatively meager savings of at most $3.1 billion annually -- or instead see the Postal Service simply transfer money from one account to another, thereby coming up with $5.5 billion at no cost to taxpayers, and not slashing services or engaging in mass layoffs?

The release says, "The drop in the economy coupled with the shift to digital communications has created the greatest loss in mail volume since the Great Depression. Mail volume peaked at 213 billion pieces in 2006 and plummeted to 170.6 billion in the fiscal year (FY) ending Sept. 30."

Inexplicably left out is the fact that the Postal Service itself projects that mail volume will begin to increase again next year. Just 10 days ago, the USPS stated that it projects mail volume to rise next year, by 1.1 percent, for the first time in four years. Neglecting to include this in the press release is explicable only if the aim is to spin the truth in an effort to achieve other aims.

The Postal Service release also says, "To remain strong into the future, the Postal Service needs to control costs through a flexible workforce to adapt to the nation's changing mailing trends."

We all know what this means - a decrease in quality through transforming the workforce into a collection of temporary employees, rather than maintaining the current high standards of a workforce that the very same press release says has led the public to regard the Postal Service as the most trusted government agency six consecutive years.

Our craft alone, the letter carriers, not only delivers mail in an efficient and professional manner, we look after the elderly on a daily basis, save the lives of customers in medical difficulty, rescue people from fires or automobile accidents, stop crimes and conduct the largest annual food drive in the country. Reducing the quality of the federal government's most trusted workforce, coupled with slashing mail delivery, would be huge mistakes that would damage the USPS.

These various spins, half-truths or outright distortions are no way to inform the public and to have a rational discussion about the best way to secure the future of a great national institution on which 150 million households and businesses rely for mail delivery six days a week. We stand ready to engage in a serious discussion that considers the best interests of the American people.