Postal Updates

By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent

Postal Service delighted with new Senate bill, but trouble looms

February 13, 2014 10:00 AM

When the Senate Homeland Security Committee finally approved a postal rescue bill Feb. 6, United States Postal Service officials were delighted.

“Very helpful,” said Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.

He cited a 9 to 1 bipartisan vote that sent the Senate a bill that the financially ailing Postal Service said “provides the framework to return the organization to financial stability.”

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., the committee chairman, was more restrained.

Resolving differences with a long-dormant House bill will be no easy task, he said.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

Others, including two groups critical to the passage of previous postal bills — postal unions and big mailers — were downright critical.

“This disastrous bill would severely damage service to the people, weaken the USPS and make it ripe for privatization and destroy good jobs throughout the country,” said American Postal Workers Union president Mark Dimondstein.

“The Senate bill is especially frustrating because the Postal Service so badly needs help from Congress, yet this bill isn’t it,” said Art Sackler, an official of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, a group composed of large mailers.

Getting major postal legislation through Congress has never been easy, but the advocates of financial relief for the USPS are now facing the question of whether big mailers and postal labor are strong enough to kill any postal legislation before it reaches President Obama’s desk.

Postal union leaders have made clear they oppose any legislation because they fear lawmakers will simply slash more postal jobs to save the federal mail agency.

Commercial mailers are angry that the Senate bill would make permanent the recent emergency rate increase, bar their lawsuit over the increases and weaken the power of the Postal Regulatory Commission to slow future increases.

To mailers, it’s all about the cost of the stamps they must buy.

What Donahoe said he liked about the Senate bill is that it offers the USPS an attempt to get a handle on its soaring retirement and health care costs. It’s those long-term costs, he said, that are deeply troubling to Postal Service executives.

There are other, potentially explosive issues that seem certain to come to the Senate floor when it takes up the postal measure, S. 1486.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is vowing to bring up his defeated amendment to allow gun owners the right to bring their weapons into post offices.

The Senate committee attempted to placate Paul by voting to allow gun owners to keep weapons in their cars in post office parking lots — something the Postal Service adamantly opposes.

Paul said his plan is a “big issue” and that he and the National Rifle Association won’t drop the fight.

Did the Postal Service make an operating profit in the first quarter of the fiscal year, which ended Dec. 31?

The National Association of Letter Carriers says it did.

Union president Fredric Rolando said in a news release Feb. 7 that the USPS showed a “dramatic” $765 million “operating profit” in the quarter.

The latest Postal Service financial figures are “highly encouraging, and show why the postal network must be maintained and strengthened, not degraded,” Rolando said.

But Donahoe says that’s not correct.

The USPS announced it booked a $354 million loss in what typically has been its best quarter of the fiscal year. It was the 19th of the last 21 quarters in which the Postal Service has shown a net loss, it said.

“Any idea that we’ve turned the corner financially is not clear thinking,” the postmaster general told reporters.

A table produced by the postmaster general and cited by the union showed a $700 million operating net in what is typically its best quarter.

It also showed that when retiree health costs and worker compensation costs are included, the Postal Service showed a net loss of $400 million in fiscal 2014 versus a $1.3 billion loss in the same period of fiscal 2013.

The numbers reflect rounding of the actual loss figures.

Revenues climbed to $18 billion, up from $17.6 million in the 2013 quarter.

First-class mail volume continues to erode, dropping 4.6 per cent from first quarter fiscal 2013 levels.