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Five-Day Mail Delivery? Not So Fast.

Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) would block any request for cuts.
Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) would block any request for cuts. (Katherine Frey - The Washington Post)

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By Joe Davidson
Friday, January 30, 2009

The chances that Congress will allow the Postal Service to cut one delivery day each week are growing slim. Postmaster General John E. Potter asked Congress for that flexibility as a last resort to save money in the face of tumbling mail volume and revenue.

It wasn't a welcome suggestion when he testified before a Senate subcommittee Wednesday, and now comes word that a key member of Congress will block the request.

The chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on financial services and general government, which controls the federal portion of the U.S. Postal Service budget, says no way. Rep. José E. Serrano (D-N.Y.) said "I will retain the prohibition on service cuts in my bill."

Note the lack of any "we" or "the Congress" in his comment. Subcommittee chairmen of the House Appropriations Committee are often called "cardinals" because of their power. Cardinal Serrano has made it clear that he will use that power to maintain six-day deliveries.

"People depend on regular mail delivery and would be greatly inconvenienced by missing a day's delivery," he said yesterday. "The Postal Service must manage its operations in ways that will not cause consumers to miss out on mail service."

Cutting the number of service days also has no fans among the post office unions.

William H. Young, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, which represents those who deliver mail in cities, said it "will vigorously resist any legislative attempt to slash the number of days of delivery."

He also called the issue a red herring, because Potter said reducing service days is not his first priority. Young agrees with Potter on the need to reschedule Postal Service financing of retiree health benefits. "Existing law requires USPS to do something no other agency of the federal government, no state or municipal government, and no private company in the Fortune 500, or as far as we know, anywhere, is required to do: to pre-fund its retiree health obligations," Young said. "While it certainly makes sense to gradually pre-fund such long-term obligations, it makes no sense to maintain such an onerous schedule."

In a message to his members, William Burrus, president of the American Postal Workers Union, said losing one day "would stretch to three days when the additional day is combined with Sunday and a Monday holiday. Such delays will drive essential mail to private carriers, who will continue to deliver seven days a week."

Burrus noted that Potter did not mention layoffs in his testimony. Postal workers apparently don't have to worry about that, at least for the moment.

"Contractual protections against layoffs require management to engage in a detailed process that includes severance pay for employees who volunteer to retire early," Burrus said. "These requirements would make it extremely expensive to lay off employees, so, while layoffs were feared, this possibility no longer seems to represent a threat."

Whistleblower Protections

Whistleblower advocates were giddy this week as it became clear the House would include tough whistleblower protection provisions in the economic stimulus package it approved Wednesday.


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