Postal Service announces plan to end Saturday mail delivery

Agency would keep six-day package delivery and avoid layoffs, officials say.

The U.S. Postal Service will end Saturday mail delivery -- but maintain six-day delivery for packages -- effective the week of Aug. 5, the agency announced Wednesday.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the new schedule will save the Postal Service $2 billion annually. It will cut 45 million work hours each year -- or the equivalent of 22,500 full-time jobs.

Donahoe added, however, he does not anticipate any layoffs to accommodate the new schedule. Instead, USPS can eliminate overtime hours and work with unions to create a new round of buyouts, he said. About 26,500 postal employees accepted buyouts in the latest round, which ended in December.

The postmaster general also pointed to “flexibility” with non-career workers, saying the agency could cut their hours from 40 per week to 38. Donahoe added that while this is an option, he preferred not to have to use it, since the affected workers would typically be younger and would lack the retirement stability career employees enjoy.

Donahoe said the Postal Service -- which has been calling for five-day delivery for years -- saw an opportunity to make the change due to the nature of the current continuing resolution that is funding the government through March 27. Since 1983, Congress has included a provision in its appropriations bills requiring the Postal Service to maintain six-day delivery. Donahoe said the continuing resolution only reimburses USPS for services already rendered, thereby allowing the agency to change its schedule for the future.

“We think we're on good footing with this,” Donahoe said at a press conference Wednesday morning. “This is not a hair-splitting loophole.”

Donahoe called USPS’ financial condition “urgent,” and said this change is one step in a broader plan to bring the agency back to fiscal solvency. The Postal Service has a $20 billion gap, Donahoe said, a figure that accounts for both its annual deficits -- a record $15.9 billion in fiscal 2012 -- and outstanding debt obligations. The agency is continuing its call for legislation to end the mandate to prefund retirees’ health benefits and to refund its alleged surplus accrued in its pension funds.

The Postal Service originally called for a five-day schedule for both mail and packages, but said due to customer feedback and growth in package delivery -- 14 percent since 2010 -- it decided to keep Saturday distributions for packages.

USPS is waiting until August to implement the new schedule to give customers, unions and workers six months to evaluate and assess the change and to allow the agency to issue guidance on how customers will be affected. Post Offices currently open on Saturdays will remain open once the change has gone into effect.

Lawmakers met the announcement with mixed reviews. Republican oversight leaders praised the decision, saying Congress and the White House should get behind the measure.

“This common-sense reform would save the Postal Service more than $2 billion annually,” wrote House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., in a joint letter to Congress. “In his recent inaugural address, President Obama spoke about the need to find real solutions to our nation’s problems. Supporting the U.S. Postal Service’s plan to move forward with 5-day mail delivery is one such solution worthy of bipartisan support.”

Democrats were lukewarm on the schedule adjustment, calling for additional congressional action.

“I am disappointed by the Postal Service’s announcement today regarding its plans to transition to a five-day mail delivery schedule in August,” Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said in a statement. “For nearly three decades, it has been the clear intent of Congress that the Postal Service provide most communities with six days of mail delivery. That said, I have long argued that Congress should reduce the number of service mandates it places on the Postal Service so that the postmaster general and his team can more easily adjust operations to reflect the changing demand for the products and services they offer.”

Carper co-sponsored a Postal reform bill that cleared the Senate but died in the House last session, which called for five-day delivery in two years provided the change was “truly necessary.”  

“Despite my disappointment,” he said, “it’s hard to condemn the postmaster general for moving aggressively to do what he believes he can and must do to keep the lights on at the Postal Service, which may be only months away from insolvency.”

Carper added that Congress is close to striking a bipartisan, bicameral USPS reform agreement in the 112th session, and he continues to put reform as a top priority. Carper said “piecemeal efforts” like the delivery schedule change would not be enough to save the agency.

House Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the Postal Service overstepped its bounds by making the change unilaterally.

“The Postal Service’s declining mail volume poses a significant challenge, and the enactment of comprehensive postal reform legislation must be an urgent priority for the current Congress,” Cummings said in a statement. “However, the issue of service delivery frequency should be addressed in that legislation rather than through arbitrary action by the Postal Service.”

Postal unions universally panned the decision, saying delivery cuts will ultimately hurt the agency and its workers.

“The [American Postal Workers Union] condemns the Postal Service’s decision to eliminate Saturday mail delivery, which will only deepen the agency’s congressionally-manufactured financial crisis,” APWU President Cliff Guffey said in a statement. “USPS executives cannot save the Postal Service by tearing it apart. These across-the-board cutbacks will weaken the nation’s mail system and put it on a path to privatization.”

The National Association of Letter Carriers called the move “disastrous,” as it would be “harmful to small businesses, rural communities, the elderly, the disabled and others who depend on Saturday delivery for commerce and communication.” The union said Donahoe should step down immediately.

Donahoe said he expects some sort of legal challenge to arise.

“You can never be sure that nobody is going to sue you,” he said, alluding to the postal unions.  “But this is America, you can sue. We’ll work it out.” 

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