Postal unions raise concerns about Senate reform bill

With Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, likely to introduce legislation overhauling the Postal Service Wednesday, mailers and labor representatives will be keeping an eye on a few key provisions not included in the postal bill passed last week by the House Government Reform Committee.

A discussion draft of the Senate measure, circulated last week, suggests that the House and Senate bills will be largely similar.

But a few aspects of the discussion draft have some postal labor representatives up in arms. A Senate committee spokeswoman said Monday she does not anticipate any major changes from the draft when senators formally introduce the bill this week.

That draft includes a provision that could reduce compensation for postal employees injured on the job.

Such a change would be "totally unacceptable," said American Postal Workers Union President William Burrus.

"We will not have postal employees treated differently from all other federal workers, including members of Congress and their staffs," Burrus said, adding that he will work vigorously to oppose a workers compensation change.

"Our voices will be heard on that question," he said.

The Senate draft would also make it easier to allow the Postal Service to provide discounts to large mailers that better prepare their products for mailing. For example, a publisher that bundles magazines according to geography, relieving postal employees of that task, could be given a lower rate.

The House bill would prohibit any worksharing discounts that exceed the money saved by the Postal Service, but the Senate version includes no such prohibition.

Unlimited worksharing discounts amount to "subsidies for big commercial mailers at the expense of smaller mailers," said former Rep. William Clay, D-Mo., president of the Consumer Alliance for the Postal Service president. "I'm hoping the House's position on that will prevail. That's the only thing for all mailers," Clay said.

Meanwhile, some mailers are praising the Senate bill, saying it would give the Postal Service greater flexibility to manage its costs.

"The most important difference between these two bills is that [in the Senate bill] cost-control issues are dealt with in a more direct fashion than in the House," said Rafe Morrissey, a lobbyist for the Greeting Card Association.

Morrissey also called the worksharing discounts allowed by the Senate draft "a plus," and he suggested that the administration might be more likely to support the more ambitious Senate bill.

Other industry sources have also said Bush probably would be more willing to sign a more extensive overhaul bill.

Gene Del Polito, president of the Association for Postal Commerce, said two issues common to both bills -- transferring payment of military retirement benefits back to the Treasury and abolishing an escrow account for the Postal Service -- would only be agreed to by the administration if the final bill includes enough other changes.

"The telling issue is going to be, is the White House convinced there is enough reform to swallow hard and accept [those two issues]?" Del Polito said.

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