e-Team Report, Jan. 25, 2013

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State Efforts Chipping Away at Union Membership, Especially for Public Sector Workers

According to a recent report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics the total number of union members in the U.S. fell by 400,000 last year.  Not surprisingly, economic and labor specialists point to the adoption of state anti-union legislation such as "right-to-work" laws as a major culprit for the steep decline in organized workers.  Local government employees have been hit particularly hard.  In Indiana and Wisconsin, states which recently adopted ‘right-to-work’ laws, union membership fell by 18 and 13 percent, respectively. 

State level attempts at dismantling workers’ ability to collectively bargain for fair wages and working conditions has taken a new turn in Kansas as House Bill 2023 was introduced this week.  If adopted, the bill would prohibit public employees from voluntarily choosing to give automatic contributions for the political activities of their unions.  Unions do not use member dues to pay for political activities.  Therefore, unions heavily rely on voluntarily contributions from members to advocate on behalf of their membership.  Blocking such voluntary deductions demonstrates the continued concerted efforts at the state level to weaken unions.

For more on the decline of union membership, click here.

Debt Ceiling Temporarily Averted

Crisis politics are alive and well in Washington, DC.  Given the deep partisan divide in Congress, it seems the only legislation that moves through the legislative branch anymore are frantic responses to immediate predicaments, often of Congress’s own making.  An ongoing example is the perpetual battle over whether or not the federal government will pay its bills.  On Wednesday, the House voted to temporarily suspend the debt ceiling for three months, pushing off the matter until it will coincide with other fiscal deadlines, such as passing a budget and automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.

To read more on the temporary debt ceiling suspension, please click here.

The Politics of Crisis and Postal Reform

As the fiscal situation of the Postal Service continues to deteriorate, the need for congressional intervention grows more urgent.  In a gridlocked Congress that only moves in times of crisis, it may well take the approaching postal cliff to spur Congress into action. 

On that note, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) affirmed on Tuesday earlier comments by Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) and Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA) that this Congress will pass long awaited postal reform.  “We will again revisit historical reforms to save the U.S. Postal Service,” said Reid, which he noted “passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis after deliberation and debate during the last Congress but was left to languish by the House.”

To read more on Sen. Reid’s plans for upcoming legislation, please click here.

Forever Stamps Rising to 46 Cents

Starting Sunday, the price for a first-class stamp will rise to 46 cents, an increase of one cent.  Other postage, including postcards and international mail, will also see a slight price increase.  These postage rates remain amongst the lowest in the Western world.

While advocating for a responsible and comprehensive postal bill on Ed Schultz’s radio show last week, APWU President Cliff Guffey commented on the huge financial burden placed on USPS without a mechanism to pay for it.  Said Guffey, “One of the worst aspects of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) — beside the requirement to pre-fund 75 years' worth of healthcare benefits for future retirees within a 10-year period — was the section of the law that prohibits the USPS from raising postage rates to pay for the pre-funding.” To listen to President Guffey’s interview on the Ed Schultz Radio Show, please click here.

Comedian television host Stephen Colbert also has some thoughts on the changing postage rates: “It just proves the government cannot do anything right.  This price hike is an outrage!  A penny? Let me get this straight, Post Office. I put a letter like this in a metal box on any street corner in the nation, say Miami, and within a couple of days it’s delivered in Seattle, Washington. And for that you want 46 cents? You go to hell.”

To watch his segment on the price of stamps (which begins at 30 seconds into the video), please click here.

Lawmakers Back Away From Federal Employee Pay Freeze (For Once)

Lawmakers have temporarily backed off from plans to extend pay freezes for the nation’s 2 million federal government workers.  House members decided not to consider the Republican-sponsored bill which would have drawn-out any increases in salaries until the end of the 2013 fiscal year.  Federal workers have felt the consequences of political gridlock for more than 3 years as they have not seen a cost of living increase in that time.  For the time being, in this one instance at least, GOP lawmakers have decided against trying to balance the budget on the backs of government workers.

It's not just the salaries of federal employees with which Congress is playing.  The House bill which temporarily suspends the debt ceiling also includes a provision that puts the salaries of federal lawmakers in escrow should they fail to reach a budget agreement by April 15th.  Should a budget never pass, members will get a lump sum payment on the last day of the Congress.  A recent study conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics found that members of 113th Congress had a median estimated net worth of $966,000 in 2011.  So, pardon the cynicism regarding the effectiveness of such a gimmick, they'll probably get by fine. 

For more on the pay freeze bill, please click here.

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