Presidential Report Rightly Rejects Privatization Schemes, But Could Hurt Worker Pay
Aug 01 2003
WASHINGTON, DC - Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., praised the final report of the President's Postal Commission, which was released today, saying its overall recommendations on how to modernize the Postal Service were reflective of his efforts to give the agency more freedom to operate like a private business. But he expressed some concern over recommendations that could lead to lower pay for postal workers and more labor disputes. "While I am concerned with some of its recommendations, the commission's report rightly focuses on the reforms necessary to allow the Postal Service to be as successful in the 21st Century as it has been for the past thirty years," said Carper. "I am pleased at the report's rejection of the privatization schemes that have failed in other countries that have attempted major postal reforms. The commission instead recommends the creation of a smaller, more flexible Postal Service that would be better able to compete in a world in which innovations like e-mail and electronic bill pay will only grow in popularity." The commission's recommendations, for the most part, are consistent with Sen. Carper's own efforts on postal reform. Like Carper's legislation, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (S. 1285), the president's commission recommends turning the Postal Service's Board of Governors into a stronger, more independent body that would be better able to manage an entity the size of the Postal Service. Both the Carper bill and the president's commission would also give the Postal Service significant pricing flexibility so that the agency can better react to the market and encourage increased mail volume. In addition, the Carper legislation and the commission's recommendations would turn the Postal Rate Commission into a stronger regulatory body charged with ensuring that the Postal Service is serving the public interest and competing fairly with private sector mailers. The recommendations also acknowledge the need for the Postal Service to rationalize its network of post offices and processing centers, and calls for the lifting of restraints that keep the Postal Service from closing post offices that are ineffective or running big deficits. In addition, the commission's recommendations call for the creation of a separate body that would oversee consolidating some of the Postal Service's more than 300 processing and distribution centers. The Carper legislation would also set up such a body, called the Postal Network Modernization Commission, to study possible closings and consolidations. However, the Carper legislation would ensure that the process is part of a larger overall plan to strengthen service standards and give Americans better access to postal services than they have today. "While the Postal Service should certainly study the need to close some existing facilities, it is important that they do so in an orderly, accountable way that promotes public confidence and does not in any way hinder the Service's ability to carry out its mandate to serve all Americans in a non-discriminatory way," said Carper. "If done haphazardly, facility closings could hurt service in some communities, especially rural and inner-city areas." Carper expressed concern with several other aspects of the commission's report, particularly recommendations that would unnecessarily open up pay standards and collective bargaining procedures that have benefited both the Postal Service and its employees. If implemented, such recommendations could result in lower pay for workers and an increased number of contract disputes over pay and retirement benefits, Carper noted. Carper said the Postal Service should use the boom in employee retirements expected in the coming years to adjust its workforce through attrition and early retirement offers. But the commission's recommendations, specifically those relating to re-examining how postal workers' salaries compare to similar jobs in the private sector, are unnecessary, Carper said. "Postal employees should be seen as an asset, not a liability," Carper said. "While labor does make up a significant percentage of the Postal Service's costs, the Postal Service performs labor-intensive work. Reducing employee pay and benefits will not change this." Carper also said setting hard and fast time limits for contract mediations, as recommended by the commission, could push more disputes into arbitration. "The present collective bargaining process has worked quite well for the Postal Service in recent months," Carper said. "Since the Postal Service's financial difficulties worsened, postal unions have agreed to contracts with modest, reasonable pay increases without going into arbitration." Meanwhile, Carper praised the commission's recommendations urging the Postal Service to more aggressively pursue automation and other technologies to improve service and increase the security and value of the mail. S. 1285 calls for the creation of a new rate system that would allow the Postal Service to use pricing to encourage intelligent, sender-identified mail that would make their processing operations more efficient and their products safer and more valuable.