Editor's Notebook: Postal Reform in Sight
As I write this column in May, postal reform bills are making their way through the House and Senate. The House bill was passed out of committee May 12 and is anticipated to get floor time before the summer is over. The Senate bill is still in draft form, but is expected to be finalized soon and put to a vote before the end of the congressional year.
Both bills represent real progress on an issue that has been haunting the U.S. Postal Service and the direct marketing industry since before I started covering direct mail more than a decade ago. But only the Senate version specifically protects worksharing discounts for mailers, a pricing structure that could help the Postal Service stem the loss of revenue due to declining mail volumes.
Of course, American Postal Workers Union President William Burrus does not share my viewpoint. In a statement released by the Postal Workers union in May, Burrus said: "... Senate proposals could endorse excessive postage discounts that subsidize corporate mailers at the expense of the Postal Service, postal customers and postal workers."
This is also the same person who last fall called mailers "vermin." A pretty interesting moniker to pin on people who are your customers. After all, as more and more consumers send e-mail birthday cards and pay their bills online, guess whose mail is going to take up more space in letter carriers' mailbags?
It's pretty obvious why Burrus refuses to consider direct marketers as his customers. Labor costs make up much of the Postal Service's expenditures, and the organization has very little control over this expense. Postmaster General Jack Potter has asserted in numerous testimonies before Congress that the Postal Service has taken every cost-cutting measure possible, and now has fewer options that will provide economic relief for the organization and please mailers, postal workers and consumers. Its two main options are to increase postage rates aggressively or reduce labor costs. But raising postage for advertising mail compels mailers to seek less costly marketing channels, driving down mail volume which in turn forces the Postal Service to increase rates to cover revenue shortages. And Burrus does not support increasing the price of a First-class stamp, which logically also would encourage consumers to rely less on the Postal Service to deliver their letters, bills and other forms of personal communication.
But let me point out that neither the National Association of Letter Carriers nor the National Association of Rural Letter Carriers have opposed worksharing discounts. They have only voiced their concern about price caps that would affect wage and benefit levels and any change to the current compensation bargaining process.
For the continued health of the nation's universal mail delivery system, direct marketers cannot pick up the whole tab on the Postal Service's rising costs. Burrus is being shortsighted in expecting direct marketers to automatically accept heftier postal rates.