Following an administration marked by visceral bickering and severe disagreement, the new leader of the U.S. Postal Service has pledged to repair relations between agency management and stakeholders.
Newly sworn in Postmaster General Megan Brennan said she wants to work more closely with unions and mailers to bridge the chasm that plagued her predecessor, Patrick Donahoe, and in many ways held up the legislative achievement of postal reform. Groups representing postal employees and the agency’s largest customers are cautiously optimistic the new chief will work more closely with them to fix the ailing agency.
“I’m very encouraged,” said Jim Cregan, executive vice president of MPA - The Association of Magazine Media. “I think this is good news for the entire postal community.”
At her swearing in ceremony last week, Brennan promised to find areas of agreement between the Postal Service and its stakeholders when pushing for legislation. She did not demand the comprehensive approach pursued by Donahoe, and has constructed most of her rhetoric around the idea of growing new business opportunities rather than cutting existing infrastructure.
Art Sackler, who runs the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service -- an alliance of businesses and associations representing the private-sector mailing industry -- said he has a “very high opinion” of Brennan, and his group is encouraged by the promises she has made.
“We’ll see if any of this actually occurs,” Sackler said, “but the approach she’s taking is a very welcome one and we look forward to working with her and seeing what we can work out.”
Groups like Sackler and Cregan’s frequently clashed with Donahoe, who pushed to raise postal pricing while scaling back services such as overnight delivery. Donahoe, as well as some lawmakers in Congress, advocated for a comprehensive overhaul when crafting legislation, rather than a piecemeal approach to find areas of agreement. For now, Cregan said there is “cause for optimism” Brennan will follow through on forging a different path.
“I have no reason not to take her at her word,” Cregan said. “She’s entering this job with a reservoir of good will from the customer community.”
Brennan could run into more difficulty winning over another community: the workforce. Postal unions were at constant odds with Donahoe, repeatedly calling for his ouster and claiming his approach would spell the end of the entire Postal Service. And while Brennan has focused primarily on growth, she has not backed away from Donahoe’s plan to shutter 82 processing facilities this year (though the initial schedule has been pushed back).
“Former Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s policies severely slowed mail delivery,” said American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein. “He lowered service standards, closed more than 140 mail processing centers, and set in motion plans to close or consolidate 82 more processing plants this year. The APWU has asked Postmaster General Brennan to restore the service standards that were in effect in July 2012 and to place a moratorium on any additional plant closings and consolidations. Time will tell.”
For unions, the tenor of the conversation has already been set by the previous administration. Donahoe oversaw a 100,000-person reduction in the postal workforce and advocated for more cuts going forward. For mailers, negotiations will be shaped by an outstanding court case -- originally argued in federal court in September -- on the legality of Donahoe’s emergency price increase that incensed the industry. Brennan’s relationship with those groups will hinge on her reaction and response to those initiatives, but for now, the mood is cheerful.
“With another Congress and new leadership in the Postal Service, we hope will be able to get to three-way agreement [between postal management, mailers and unions],” Sackler said.