It’s not going to be an easy sell.
Donahoe, a 36-year-veteran of the Postal Service, wants Congress to allow the USPS to bust the anti-layoff provisions in its union contracts. He also wants permission to pull his 563,000 employees from the health and retirement plans that cover federal employees so the USPS can provide less generous programs.
John Berry, director of the Office of Personnel Management, which runs those programs, will tell the committee that the “OPM believes the Postal Service and its employees and retirees are well-served by the existing health benefits program and retirement system.” His testimony also says the USPS plan needs more study.
The Postal Service says it needs to trim 220,000 career positions from its workforce by 2015, with attrition expected to take 100,000 of those jobs. For the remaining 120,000 slots, “it is imperative that we have the ability to reduce our workforce rapidly. . . . It is not likely that the Postal Service will be able to eliminate these layoff protections through collective bargaining,” says a USPS white paper.
The USPS can already fire, following standard reduction-in-force procedures, the 61,500 career employees it says have no layoff protection. There are 88,000 non-career workers, some of whom are not full time, who also can be let go at any time.
The new proposals are quite a step for Donahoe, a former postal union member who was raised in a union town. Just how far the Pittsburgh native will get with an extreme approach to extreme financial problems is uncertain. Many Republicans who have shown no love for public employee unions may welcome the chance to establish a national precedent simply by following the request of the postmaster general. The postal unions, of course, are angry about Donahoe’s proposals and will expect Democrats to be on their side.
American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey calls Donahoe’s plans “outrageous, illegal and despicable,” in his prepared testimony. “The attempt by the Postal Service to keep what it gained from our bargain and to unilaterally abrogate what the APWU gained is in utter disregard for the legal requirement to bargain with the APWU in good faith.”
Usually friendly members of Congress may agree in theory, but that doesn’t mean they will automatically dump on Donahoe. Committee Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who generally is supportive of union positions, said, “I have an open mind on the various proposals that have been made,” which is not what union leaders want to hear about circumventing contracts and pulling out of health and retirement programs that work. “The bottom line for me is we must act quickly to prevent a Postal Service collapse,” Lieberman added.