Lawmakers question pay for USPS employees

House lawmakers are seeking answers on workforce costs at the U.S. Postal Service.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has scheduled an April 5 hearing to examine postal workers' pay and benefits. Lawmakers previously have expressed concern over the U.S. Postal Service's labor costs, which account for approximately 80 percent of its expenses.

The committee will hear from witnesses on the new contract between the Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union. USPS and APWU on March 14 reached a tentative agreement after months of negotiations. Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., expressed concern that the contract could worsen the Postal Service's fiscal situation.

"Costs must be reduced to align them with falling mail volume and declining revenue projections," Issa said. "The union contract renewals are the best chance to find new savings. Unfortunately, this looks like a missed opportunity. The Postal Service must show Congress and the American people that it can pay its own way, because the numbers do not seem to add up."

In addition to a 3.5 percent pay raise, the first 1 percent of which would take effect in November 2012, the agreement would protect APWU employees against layoffs and limit "excessing," where employees are reassigned to different work sites based on the agency's current needs. It also includes provisions that would return to postal employees work that had been outsourced, or assigned to managers. From 2013 to 2016, there would be a slight increase in employees' share of contributions to health benefits, totaling several dollars per pay period each year.

The new agreement would cover 205,000 workers represented by APWU, including clerks, mechanics, vehicle drivers, custodians and administrative aides. Before it can take effect, union members still have to approve the provisions, which would extend through May 20, 2015. Both APWU's rank-and-file advisory committee and its executive board have unanimously approved the contract, and ballots will be mailed to members on April 8.

Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., chairman of the postal service subcommittee, said USPS cannot afford to pay employees more than their private sector counterparts, citing data showing that postal workers earn 34.2 percent more than comparable workers at commercial companies.

Postal Service salaries are negotiated through collective bargaining and employees do not receive locality pay, noted USPS spokesman Mark Saunders, adding the agency does not get taxpayer funds for operating expenses.

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