Stopping Saturday mail delivery could mean layoffs for USPS

If Congress eliminates Saturday mail delivery to help the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service, then layoffs are a possibility, a top USPS official acknowledged to House lawmakers on Thursday.

"I can't say or guarantee that there wouldn't be layoffs," said Jordan Small, USPS acting vice president, during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Federal Workforce, Postal Service and District of Columbia Subcommittee. Small added that he hoped personnel cuts could be made through attrition and the service's temporary workforce, which handles many of USPS' Saturday deliveries.

"We certainly understand that change is difficult, and we're aware of changes that would occur with employees," Small said. "There is a cushion available through the temporary workforce and attrition to try to ensure that there is not a dramatic effect on our employees."

USPS also gave the subcommittee a list of 677 post office locations to be studied for possible closure or consolidation. Small said the closures could lead to staff relocations and cuts through attrition, but would not result in layoffs.

The Government Accountability Office earlier this week placed USPS on its list of federal programs at high risk of waste, fraud or abuse, because of its financial woes. The service has been hit by a reduction in mail volume, the pressures of the recession and what some claim are unrealistic demands for funding future retirement health benefits.

USPS officials have said they do not think they will be able to make a scheduled $5.4 billion annual payment to the Treasury Department's Postal Service Retiree Health Benefits Fund, as required by a 2006 postal service restructuring act. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday passed a bill that would give the service some relief by reducing payments and increasing USPS' borrowing limits.

Lawmakers and USPS officials agreed that even if the bill easing retirement benefit payments is enacted, broader reform is necessary. Despite the possibility of layoffs, USPS officials urged lawmakers to consider legislation to move from six to five days a week delivery.

"As you know, the Postal Service has alerted stakeholders to the fact that mail volume levels can no longer sustain six days a week delivery," Small said during his opening statement on Thursday.

Small emphasized that USPS' suggestion is to eliminate Saturday as a delivery day, but keep post offices and post office boxes open.

Union leaders who represent mail handlers and carriers said during the hearing that while layoffs are not yet on the table, some members face "de facto" layoffs through relocations or drastic reductions in hours.

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