So the financial distress of the U.S. Postal Service can have personal implications for everyone, particularly its employees, who are both USPS workers and customers. Last week, the Senate approved legislation that is designed to help rescue the Postal Service from its budgetary sinkhole.
How well the bill would do that is debateable.
Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), a sponsor of the bill, said it would “remove some of the immediate financial pressure on the Postal Service” and encourage long-term innovative thinking and measures to reduce excess capacity, while “avoiding extreme changes that could further destabilize USPS.”
But the legislation leaves postal union leaders ambivalent, at best.
John F. Hegarty, president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, said: “We’re not endorsing it wholeheartedly. We’ve come out in cautious support, recognizing there are still some improvements that need to be made.”
James Sauber, chief of staff for the National Association of Letter Carriers, said: “We’re sort of disappointed. . . . It’s sort of a missed opportunity, sort of tinkering around the edges.”
And Greg Bell, executive vice president of the American Postal Workers Union, said: “It’s an improvement over the original bill, [but] we have some issues.”
The first issue Bell cited is a provision in the legislation that would reduce some workers’ compensation payments three years after enactment, not including those who are totally and permanently disabled or already above retirement age. This would apply to federal employees generally, not just postal workers.
That measure “cracks down on fraud, making the system fairer, and encouraging a return to work for employees who are able to work,” says a statement from the office of Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), author of the provision and a co-sponsor of the overall legislation.
But that provision was enough to earn the opposition of Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the subcommittee on the federal workforce, although he supported many other sections.
“Unfortunately, I cannot support a bill that cuts benefits for federal employees who have been injured in service to their country,” he said. “It is simply cruel to change the rules after-the-fact for disabled employees who were relying on the promise of these benefits. I’m disappointed my amendment to fix this issue was defeated.”
Another provision that could affect all federal employees allows the Postal Service to set up its own employee health insurance plan and withdraw from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. But Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) may have undermined the push by postal officials to do that with his amendment, which would require any new postal program to have the same quality as the current government-wide program.