Postal union rips labor rules in Bush reform proposal

The American Postal Workers Union and the Bush administration are facing off anew over labor rules in the long-awaited postal overhaul legislation.

In a memo outlining priorities for new legislation, administration officials are advocating greater flexibility in negotiating worksharing agreements, which allow the agency to offer discounts to large mailers for presorting mail and other tasks normally done by postal workers.

Union lobbyists oppose the proposed changes, which a spokeswoman for the APWU said would amount to the postal service subsidizing large mailers.

But Ben Cooper, who tracks legislation for the Printing Industries of America, said it would benefit the agency to "offer discounts to preferred customers to keep them doing business with you."

Lobbyists on both sides of the issue say it could gain traction because Senate Governmental Affairs Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, a sponsor of postal legislation, tried last year to get a broader worksharing provision in the bill her committee passed. It was blocked by Democrats, joined by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

"Sen. Collins was quite adamant about this issue. I wouldn't be at all surprised if she pushed it pretty heavily," Cooper said.

Collins said in a statement that she generally supports the concept of worksharing and will include it in new postal overhaul legislation.

Major changes to worksharing provisions are unlikely to become a part of the House bill, said Robert Taub, chief of staff for Rep. John McHugh, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's special postal panel.

"A lot of sweat, blood and tears went into negotiating that language," Taub said. "I don't think anyone would say that it's their version of perfection, but we got it to a point where everyone could be comfortable supporting it."

McHugh, who has sponsored postal overhaul legislation in every Congress for nearly a decade, reintroduced a new bill last week, which largely mirrored legislation passed by the committee last year. Taub said the bill is a signal that Congress is ready to act on postal overhaul, but negotiations probably will continue in coming weeks between lawmakers and the administration. The two sides have disagreed on accounting and pension procedures, as the administration contends bills introduced last year do not do enough to hold down labor costs.

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