“It’s the De-Fault of the Republicans”

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 (This article appeared in the September/October 2012 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Myke Reid, Legislative and Political Department Director

Rep. Barney Frank hit the nail on the head when he railed on the House floor on Aug. 2 against Republicans who left Washington for a five-week summer recess before completing the people’s business. Rep. Frank (D-MA) pointed out that Republicans were not tackling critical postal reform legislation and placed the ‘default’ of the Postal Service squarely on their shoulders. Because House Republicans failed to take action to resolve a congressionally-manufactured financial crisis, the USPS was unable to make a $5.5 billion payment to the U.S. Treasury that was due on Aug. 1.

Upon hearing of the House Republicans decision to postpone postal reform in favor of election-year posturing, APWU President Cliff Guffey took the Republican leaders of the House to task. “We must wrest control of the House from elected officials who are more interested in scoring political points than in conducting the nation’s business,” he said. “We must take control from extremists who would like to privatize the Postal Service.”

“Union members must vote in November, and be actively involved in the run-up to the election, encouraging their families, friends and neighbors to do the same,” Guffey warned.

Although the Democratic-controlled Senate was able to work in a bipartisan manner to pass a bill that would provide meaningful relief from the 2006 law that requires the USPS — and only the USPS — to pre-fund billions of dollars in healthcare costs for future retirees, House GOP leaders have shown no interest in fixing the mess Congress made.

In fact, House Republican leaders have indicated that they may not consider postal reform until after the election!

On the Attack

What exactly has Congress done to help postal workers and federal employees? Not much. In this session the House has passed 60 bills to re-name post offices, but none to prevent postal facilities and post offices from closing.

House members did find time to approve several bills that would penalize postal and federal workers, however:

House Republicans voted to increase federal workers’ pension contributions – without increasing benefits; supported legislation requiring federal workers to pay for a payroll tax cut; attempted to lengthen a freeze on federal pay, and adopted legislation to cut the federal workforce by 10 percent within three years. Republicans want to scrap essential government services and slash the number of federal and postal workers, period.

The Pension Pay Cut

In May, the House approved H.R. 5652, introduced by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI), which would increase employees’ contributions to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) and the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) by 5 percent over five years. The bill requires FERS employees to contribute 5.8 percent of each paycheck toward the FERS basic annuity portion of their pensions and requires CSRS employees to contribute 12 percent, yet it does not increase employees’ annuities or provide any additional benefits upon retirement.

Simply put, the bill amounts to a pay cut for federal and postal employees.

House Republicans provided all 218 votes in favor of the measure, while 183 Democrats and 16 Republicans opposed it. The bill also would require federal employees who are hired after 2012 with fewer than five years of previous federal service to immediately pay 5.8 percent to the FERS plan, with no phase-in. In addition, it would eliminate the FERS Social Security supplement for new employees hired beginning in 2013, which is now paid to FERS employees who voluntarily retire before reaching age 62. The Senate has not taken action on the measure.

Only Federal, Postal Employees

The House also passed H.R. 828, the Federal Employee Tax Accountability Act, sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), which could get federal and postal workers fired if they fall behind on their federal taxes. The bill, approved on July 31 by a vote of 263 to 114, would only affect federal and postal employees; it would not apply to federal contracting jobs or other private-sector work that is paid for with federal funds.

Perhaps acknowledging that almost all federal employees pay their taxes, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), a supporter of the measure, conceded that the bill is “almost pure symbolism.” The bill is pending before the Senate.

“This is the most hostile Congress has ever been to federal employees,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told Politico in March. “The other side has decided they’re an easy punching bag, and it is outrageous on many, many scores.” Connolly’s northern Virginia district houses the third largest concentration of federal workers nationwide.

“Postal workers should set their sights on November,” President Guffey said.

A Bright Spot

One piece of good news is that Congress approved “phased retirement” for postal and federal employees. A highway funding law, which President Obama signed on July 6, authorizes federal agencies to allow full-time retirement- eligible employees to opt to retire gradually. The phased retirement provision will take effect when the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issues regulations for implementing the new law.

Phased retirement will allow postal and federal employees to retire from a portion of their full-time employment and receive a pro-rated pension for their service. During phased retirement, federal employees may work 20 percent to 80 percent of their full-time schedule and continue to receive a pro-rated salary and pension credit for the time worked. Federal workers who opt for “phased retirement” must spend at least 20 percent of the time worked to mentor new employees, but USPS employees are exempt from this requirement.

The struggle continues! 

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