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Legislative Review and Preview
In 1998, legislative issues will be a major part of the activities of this branch. With two special elections, along with the off-year elections, combined with the usual legislative efforts, the new year promises to keep Branch 1439 members busy throughout the year. In this article, we will first review what took place in 1997 and then try to predict what might happen in 1998.
1997-Maintaining Our Edge
1997 was a year in which letter carriers worked very hard in the legislative arena, but by years end found themselves in much the same position as they started the year. Given the current political climate in Washington DC, this is comparatively good news. During the year, attempts to slash earned employee benefits, cut Medicare, undermine the Social Security system, censor union communications and destroy the Postal Service met with heavy resistance from letter carriers, both active and retired. We also worked with our brothers and sisters in labor to sidetrack "Fast Track" and delay efforts to replace full-time career workers with a part-time temporary work force.
Health Benefits- NALC was the leading advocate to the White House and Congress on a complex budget issue which will protect the current allocation of the employer/employee FEHBP contributions, which saved us approximately $3 billion in benefits. Also, this fix removed Congressional leverage in attempts to tinker with, if not gut FEHBP. NALC was also involved in efforts to defeat efforts to delay retiree COLA's, to change the retirement calculation from a High-3 to a High-5, to defeat an attempt to change the retirement age, and to protect the stability of the federal retirement system. Our one blemish on this record was the 0.5 percentage point increase in our retirement contributions, which will begin in 1999 and will be phased in over 3 years.
Postal Reform- A great deal of scrutiny was given to H.R. 22, the Postal Reform Act. We told the Subcommittee about our opposition to the open mailbox rule, the elimination of the double postage rule, and creating an independent postal-labor management commission. The committee moved slowly on this issue, meanwhile, our competitors attempted to enact legislation to financially injure the Postal Service. UPS tried to undercut the Postal Service by working with Rep Anne Northrup (R-KY) to introduce the Northrup amendment to H.R. 2378, the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill. This amendment would have crippled the Postal Service's efforts to expand its overseas mailing service. Ultimately, NALC was successful in defeating this bill.
Retirement Issues- The NALC is working to help pass H.R. 2273, a bill that modifies the government pension offset provision. Currently, a Social Security widow(er)'s benefit is reduced or eliminated if that individual is eligible for a public pension based upon a position that was not covered by Social Security. This includes CSRS beneficiaries. There is no such offset for spouses receiving pensions from private sector employees. H.R. 2273 would permit public pensioners to receive a minimum $1,200 per month before offset provisions could be imposed. H. R. 2273 currently has over 100 cosponsors.
This open season would take place in the second half of 1998, and would benefit certain CSRS employees.
Labor Issues- Letter carriers worked together with other unions to fight off many attempts to enact anti-worker legislation. For example, labor battled the TEAM act, legislation to replace overtime pay with compensatory time, attempts to create school vouchers and measure to gut workplace safety.
The 105th Congress, which will reconvene on January 26, will conduct business during an election year. This means that more partisanship and ideological posturing will take place, not exactly conducive to good legislation. Furthermore, the alleged misdoings of Teamster President Ron Carey and the supposed involvement of AFL-CIO council will have a negative impact on labor's legislative and political efforts.
Postal Reform- Chairman John McHugh has release a new draft of the Postal Reform Act, and the good news is the provision that would have opened the mail box to private companies has been dropped. NALC will continue to monitor this bill, and all carriers are urged to contact their members of Congress to remind them of the issues that concern us, such as the double postage rule. Meanwhile, competitors such as UPS and FedEx will continue to attempt to chip away at USPS with amendments to bill that have nothing to do with the Postal Service. We must continue to educate our legislators about our issues and ooncerns.
Labor Issues/Campaign Finance Reform- Campaign finance reform will be a hot issue in 1998. Over 30 bills were introduced last year on this issue alone. The Republicans are bent on curtailing labor political activism. They are reeling over the resources -both financial and manpower - that labor brought to the 1996 elections, despite being outspent by business 11 to 1. Further, we can expect the Republicans to try to exploit the Ron Carey situation to promote legislation that would restrict, if not eliminate, union involvement in the political process.
Budget- In 1998, we can expect more attempts to reduce our benefits. With the deal to balance the budget by 2002 enacted last year, the Congress will attempt to look for methods to squeeze more money out of the budget, and this almost always means taking it away from postal and federal employees.
A lot of questions concern the election of 1998. The current makeup of the Congress may not change much, but which party can motivate its base to vote will tell much about the direction the country will take the next two years. Is the Far Right frustrated because their agenda has not been implemented over the past 3 years? Is the Far Left disappointed by Clinton's move to the center on many issues?
Thanks to the NALC legislative department for this information.
Mark Lesch has been a letter carrier for 17 years, and also serves as secretary/editor for Branch 1439, Ontario,California, as well as legislative liaison for California's 40th Congressional District.