Thursday, October 14, 2010

Post Office union extends election; ballots got lost in mail

If you believe in a higher power, then I've got evidence for you that God has a sense of humor. Last week, the American Postal Workers Union, which represents more than 200,000 workers, had to extend its elections for national officers because ... wait for it ... thousands of ballots got lost in the mail.

The irony is amusing, but what isn't funny is the financial condition of the U.S. Postal Service. The grand ole government mail monopoly has seen its revenues plummet from the combination of a weak economy and growing competition from cheaper, quicker electronic communication alternatives.

Although the USPS has been able to shave billions in expenses, it hasn't been enough to stop the bleeding. The USPS, which is close to maxing out its $15 billion line of credit with the U.S. Treasury, faces the prospect of running out of operating cash by year's end.

A big drag on the USPS's bottom line is the pesky postal unions.

Even though postal operations have become more automated, labor still accounts for 80 percent of the USPS's costs. The USPS has been able to eliminate thousands of positions through attrition, but it still possesses the second-largest civilian workforce in the country, behind only Wal-Mart. With 85 percent of that workforce protected by collective bargaining agreement, the unions have become a giant anchor on an already sinking ship.

In 2009, the average postal employee received about $79,000 in total compensation. This compares to $61,000 in wages and benefits received by the average private sector worker. Studies that have made "apples to apples" comparisons of postal workers to private sector workers have repeatedly found that postal workers receive a significant compensation premium.

The premium isn't surprising considering that postal employee benefits are even more generous than the benefits regular federal civilian workers receive.

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