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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bill backed by union has hurdles

WASHINGTON – Postal workers and opponents of federal cutbacks to the U.S. Postal Service who demonstrated in Manchester and Concord on Tuesday were part of a larger group of rallies around the country calling for congressional action to shore up the beleaguered agency without reducing jobs or services.

Specifically, the rallies were meant to draw support for House legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., that would recalculate the Postal Service’s pension obligations and avoid such steps as closing local post offices or doing away with Saturday delivery. A seperate proposal was introduced in the Senate on Friday by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

“It’s such an easy fix,” said Janice Kelble, legislative director for the New Hampshire Postal Workers Union.

Addressing the Postal Service’s recent financial woes and its impending default on pension obligations, Kelble declared, “Congress created the problem, and congressional action can fix it.”

In 2006, Congress passed legislation requiring the Postal Service to prepay retiree health benefits. According to Kelble, this payment – which now totals $5.5 billion annually – has been a major contributing factor in the Postal Service’s record $10 billion net loss in the fiscal year that ends this Friday.

Despite garnering over 200 co-sponsors, including U.S. Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., the Lynch bill is unlikely to make it to House floor.

Last week, a House subcommittee voted in favor of an alternative approach – authored by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif. – that would end Saturday delivery and allow for consolidation of local post offices and mail processing facilities. The goal of the bill is to save the Postal Service a minimum of $10.7 billion annually.

“Congress must look at all possible options to address the serious financial problems facing the U.S. Postal Service,” Bass said in a statement. 

“I believe that solutions must allow for the long-term viability of postal operations while at the same time protecting taxpayers.” 

Nearly two weeks ago, the Postal Service announced that it would conduct studies of possible consolidation of mail distribution centers in Nashua and Manchester.

According to Pat Ahern, president of Manchester Local 230 of the American Postal Workers Union, such a move could eliminate mail processing centers in New Hampshire, thus affecting the speed of mail delivery and leading to the relocation of more than 300 employees.

Any job cuts would affect the jobs of many military veterans, Kelble said, who have historically comprised 30 percent of the post office’s work force.

In addition, Postal Service officials have said that, in the absence of congressional action, they will have no choice but to default on the $5.5 billion prepayment of health benefits in order to continue day-to-day operations of the quasi-governmental agency.

With no final congressional action foreseen before the end of the current fiscal year this Friday, such a default appears likely: The House is in recess this week, with no date set for a vote by the full Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and there has yet to be committee action in the Senate.