Under orders from his board, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe is gamely trying to reopen pay talks with employee organizations after the collapse of efforts to end Saturday mail delivery.
Good luck with that.
The U.S. Postal Service’s “untenable” financial position “demands urgent action to ensure the near-term viability of our great institution,” Donahoe said in a Tuesday letter to Louis Atkins, president of the National Association of Postal Supervisors. (NAPS provided the letter to FedLine with permission to post it online.)
“In light of these extraordinary circumstances, I request your cooperation in reopening consultations concerning the pay and benefits of the dedicated employees you represent,” Donahoe said in the letter. “I fully understand the significance of this request and would not make it; however, the financial challenges confronting the organization and all who depend upon its very survival make it necessary.”
The USPS board of governors told Donahoe last week to take that unprecedented step after dropping plans to go to five-day-a-week mail delivery this August. In a statement, the board said its goal is to lower total workforce costs and find other ways to make economies. Similar letters went out this week to the two postmaster groups and the Postal Service’s four unions.
“What I‘d like to do is sit down–before we do anything–as a group and have a session where we kick around some ideas,” Donahoe said at a Wednesday congressional hearing. “There may be some opportunities in there we should look at.”
But after years of cutbacks and downsizing, employee groups aren’t feeling very receptive. At least three of the four postal unions are so far objecting to a return to the bargaining table. And NAPS’ executive board has already decided that reopening pay consultations is not in members’ best interest, the association said yesterday in a politely worded news release. Last year’s round resulted in a third straight year without a salary increase for executive and administrative schedule (EAS) employees, the release said, adding that supervisors, managers and postmasters must pay more for health insurance.
Finally, hiring freezes stemming from the Postal Service’s financial crisis have left the mail carrier understaffed by as many as 5,000 supervisory and managerial positions, the release says. “Our members have performed admirably under these trying conditions, moving the mail every day throughout the country and have given back more than their fair share.”
The U.S. Postal Service may have its problems, but they evidently aren’t severe enough to persuade many supervisors and administrators to jump at an early retirement offer.
Out of 3,594 Executive and Administrative Schedule employees eligible for the package, just 186 signed up by the Nov. 19 deadline, according to Postal Service figures provided today.
The package—standard for the federal government–allows employees to retire early if they are at least 50 years old with a minimum of 20 years’ service, or any age with at least 25 years’ service. Unlike recent early retirement offers to postmasters, mail handlers and clerks, however, this one was not coupled with a cash incentive (i.e., buyout).
“If there was an incentive, you could have gotten a lot more,” Louis Atkins, president of the National Association of Postal Supervisors, said in an interview. But because there are already plenty of vacancies in EAS ranks, he said, “it would have been very difficult to convince Congress that they needed that.” Factor in the shaky economy and the fact that Civil Service Retirement System participants under 55 take a penalty for retiring early, and Atkins wasn’t surprised at the low number of takers.
The Postal Service had unveiled the offer in September, saying at the time that about 3,300 employees were eligible. Those who have accepted must leave by year’s end. But Atkins was confident that more EAS early retirement offers are coming next year as the Postal Service resumes mail processing plant closures and consolidations.