LEGISLATIVE REPORT

By Fred Heller, Legislative Director
February 2005 newsletter

Congressional Elections

In the 2004 election, the Democratic Party, traditionally supporters of the labor agenda, lost seats in both the House and the Senate. The House of Representatives is now comprised of 232 Republicans, 201 Democrats, and 1 Independent, while the Senate seats are filled with 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 1 Independent. As a result, the Congressional Committees that will deal with postal reform legislation are reflecting the gains of the Republican Party.

For the 109th Congress, the Senate Committee responsible for postal reform is the renamed Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, still chaired by Susan Collins (R-ME). In the 108th Congress, there were 9 Republican members and 8 Democratic members. For the current Congress, the committee has 9 GOP members, but only 7 Dems. Notably gone from the 2005 committee is Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican who crossed party lines in the previous Congress to support the Lieberman amendment to S.2468, which limited excessive "worksharing" discounts afforded to major mailers. Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT), an APWU ally, is still a committee member, as are Thomas Carper (D-DE) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

In the House of Representatives, committee appointments have not yet been finalized, but the APWU Legislative Department, headed by Director Myke Reid and Assistant Director Steve Albanese, do not expect major changes to the House Government Reform Committee. For the 109th Congress, there are 23 Republicans, 17 Democrats, and 1 Independent, compared to the 24 Republicans, 19 Democrats, and 1 Independent that made up the committee for the 108th Congress. Tom Davis (R-VA) will likely remain as Chairman, while the committee's Special Panel on Postal Reform will feature John McHugh (R-NY), a long-time proponent of postal reform, and Danny Davis (D-IL), a friend of the APWU.

Postal Reform Legislation

Representative McHugh was quick out of the starting gate, introducing H.R.22, his postal reform bill, on January 4, the first day of business for the House of Representatives in the 109th Congress. The bill strongly resembles H.R.4341, a postal reform bill approved by the House Government Reform Committee shortly before time expired on the 108th Congress. None of the anti-collective bargaining, anti-labor recommendations originally advanced by the President's Commission to Study the USPS appear in Congressman McHugh's H.R.22. Those measures were resoundingly defeated when the 2004 Government Reform Committee was at work shaping H.R.4341 and thankfully, Congressman McHugh left them in the recycling bin when he authored H.R.22. "We've bridged many divides in reaching this point, and I am confident that all parties involved will succeed in supporting this $900 billion (mailing) industry and its nine million jobs," the Congressman said when speaking of the survival of the Postal Service and the business of direct mailing.

However, there are several elements of H.R.22 that the White House opposes. Over the course of a number of years, the USPS overpaid billions of dollars to the Civil Service Retirement System and when the overpayments were discovered, the funds were placed in escrow, awaiting a decision on how they were to be used. H.R.22, like H.R.4341 before it, calls for those funds to be released back to the Postal Service over a period of years. In addition, H.R.22 contains provisions that would return to the U.S. Treasury Department the financial responsibility for military retirement benefits for any postal workers who have served in the nation's armed forces. President Bush, probably casting an eye toward those billions in hopes of easing the budget crisis, has already indicated that he would not sign any bill containing either of those provisions.

APWU members can expect that the next two years will involve extensive letter-writing in an effort to keep our legislators from yielding to the political pressure from the White House to amend H.R.22 and any Senate postal reform bill. COPA contributions will again be required from all members if our Legislative Department is expected to carry any lobbying clout. "We are hopeful that the progress made in the last session (108th Congress) will not be set aside when the new Congress addresses this important matter," said APWU President Burrus when speaking of postal reform legislation.

It is expected that the Senate will soon have a postal reform bill introduced. Chairperson Collins and Committee member Carper both wrote bills that were before the 108th Congress, and it is likely that the new reform bill will resemble S.R.2468 that was passed by the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee during the previous Congress. Like the House bill, the Senate bill contained provisions for military retirement benefits and for the release of the escrowed CSRS overpayments. Also like the House bill, S.2468 scrapped most anti-worker, anti-union recommendations from the Presidential Commission.

However, the Senate billfrom the previous Congress contained at least one provision that was strongly opposed by the APWU. That provision was for a three-day waiting period before any injured postal worker would be eligible to collect benefits. The fact that the bill differentiated us from all other federal employees made it especially objectionable. It is hoped that the Senate reform bill introduced to the 109th Congress will not contain that provision.

POSTAL BOARD OF GOVERNORS

The Postal Board of Governors has elected James C. Miller III as its chairman during the meeting of January 11, 2005. The Board, just like a board of directors for a company in the private sector, oversees the Postal Service, directing and controlling expenditures, conducting long-range planning and setting policies on all postal matters. It may be remembered that Miller was once a proponent of postal privatization and once portrayed postal employees as overpaid, but during his acceptance of the Chairmanship he said he has come to "know, appreciate, and value the contributions of every USPS employee." Only time will tell.

LOOSE ENDS

At the quarterly union briefing in January, Philadelphia Cluster Lead Executive Jordan Small and chief POOM Charles Ferrera both indicated that PTF conversions are well underway in the clerk craft and that hiring of new career PTF clerks has begun.

WINDOW CLERKS: Take no shortcuts! Perform every transaction as you were taught at POS training. Obvious shortcuts, such as those involving the use of the NO SALE key, attract the attention of management, and can be monitored by outside agencies, like the Inspection Service. Don't take any foolish chances in an effort to move a line. Let your managers worry about the length of the line. Do everything "by the book."

ALL APWU Craft employees: Respect has become an important workplace issue. Make it simple: treat every supervisor, coworker, and customer like you would want someone to treat your Mom.

Thanks to the NALC Bulletin and the APWU News Bulletin for much of the legislative information reported above.

In a national arbitration award on January 28, 2005, Arbitrator Shyam Das sustained the contentions of the APWU concerning requests for the nature of an illness when an employee calls in sick, and also concerning FMLA second and third opinion procedures. Das' opinion stated that "...in applying ELM 513.332 in the context of the RMD process, ACS's may ask questions necessary to make FMLA determinations and to determine whether an absence is due to an on-the-job injury or for a condition which requires ELM 865 return-to-work procedures...but may not otherwise require employees to describe the nature of their illness/injury." The main purpose of the call-ins is to notify management of an absence as soon as possible for staffing purposes.

At a Sales/Service Associate seminar regarding revenue generation, held at the Philadelphia PEDC on Thursday, February 10, 2005, Instructor Bobby Mack reiterated that management may not search POS transactions in order to determine which clerk waited on a mystery shopper. Mystery shopper reports are an office tool only.