Letter Carrier Union Hires Former Obama Adviser

The union representing the nation's letter carriers has hired a former Obama administration adviser as it faces proposals that could lead to layoffs of thousands of its members. Ron Bloom oversaw the administration's auto industry task force. His hiring by the National Association of Letter Carriers comes as the union is negotiating a new contract with the U.S. Postal Service, which cannot find a way to make delivering mail by hand profitable. It is losing billions of dollars and is considering drastic steps to cut costs.

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The U.S. Postal Service needs a rescue plan. It's billions of dollars in the red and fewer and fewer people are sending first class mail. Congress and the Postal Service's leaders have failed to come up with a solution so far and thousands of layoffs are looming.

So the letter carriers are trying to step up. The union that represents them has hired consultants, an investment bank and a former Obama administration adviser. Here's NPR's Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The adviser is Ron Bloom, who headed the Obama administration's restructuring of the auto industry and was an assistant to the president on manufacturing policy. He and investment bankers the Lazard Group, where Bloom used to work, were hired by the National Association of Letter Carriers.

In a statement, union president Fredric Rolando said their efforts will focus on, quote, "the continued provision of universal service to the public and the preservation of hundreds of thousands of good middle class jobs." Rolando was not available for an interview and Bloom has declined interview requests.

The Postal Service has asked Congress to allow it to cut some 120,000 jobs in an effort to end the flow of red ink, which amounted to an estimated eight and a half billion dollars last year. It's also trying to wrest back some of the business it's lost to the Internet by running TV ads like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISION AD)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The refrigerator has never been hacked. An online virus has never attacked a cork board. Give your customers the added feeling of security a printed statement or receipt provides with mail.

NAYLOR: There are many ideas about what the Postal Service needs to do to stem its losses, but not a lot of agreement between the unions, the Postal Service itself and its congressional overseers. The post office wants to close thousands of its rural outposts and eliminate Saturday delivery service, steps resisted by many lawmakers and union leaders.

The Postal Service and many Democrats say it's being hampered by a congressional requirement that it prepay its future health care and retiree costs, which adds up to five and a half billion dollars a year.

But Republicans say to end that prepayment would force taxpayers to pick up the tab. In a Web video, Republicans on the House Oversight Committee charged that would amount to the B word for bailout.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEB VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Taxpayer money to a failing business. That's a bailout and we've tried that before. Only one turnaround plan protects postal benefits and protects American taxpayers. No gimmicks, no bailout.

NAYLOR: Florida Republican Dennis Ross chairs the Postal Service subcommittee and is author of a measure to restructure the post office. One step, he says, is to trim 150,000 jobs through retirement.

REPRESENTATIVE DENNIS ROSS: We don't have to lay anybody off. We don't have to let anybody go. We can incentivize(ph) those that are ready, willing and able to retire to retire. That would be a significant reduction in cost of workforce, which would help the Postal Service. And then when you couple that with whether we're going to continue to do door-to-door service as opposed to curb service and cluster box and post office box, we start saving significant money.

NAYLOR: Ross's bill is awaiting a vote by the full House, but is unlikely to win much support in the Senate. Time for Congress or anyone else to fix the post office is running out. It needs to come up with its next five and a half billion dollar prepayment of health care and pension costs by November 18th.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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