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This is a federal case from Washington D.C. the National Educational radio network brings you an examination of current issues facing our nation and its capital city. Here is NPR and correspondent John King. Neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds. But in March of this year the males did stop on March 18th letter carriers in New York Connecticut and New Jersey walked off their jobs five days later President Nixon declared a national emergency and ordered federal troops into New York City to help get the males moving again. The first strike in the history of the U.S. postal system wasn't really settled until the end of the month and even then workers
kept an impatient eye on Washington and the negotiations that were supposed to produce them substantial raises on April 2nd. The negotiators AFLCIO President George Meany on behalf of the unions and postmaster general Winton blunt announced a 14 percent pay hike for all postal employees. Six percent of that is part of a government wide raise. The other 8 percent on congressional enactment of a postal reform bill. And August 6 that after months even years of legislative fulminations Congress finally did complete action on a postal reform measure outlining the first major changes in the post office since Ben Franklin ran at one hundred eighty some years ago on August 12th President Nixon signed a bill into law setting into motion the machinery for the massive transition. So now we have a postal reform act on the books. What happens now but it's law. We asked the man who wrote a good part of the legislation New York Democratic Congressman that he has don't ski.
I'll be honest with you it's going to be. Less service because today the people are so used to it and they were so used over the years with that 2 cent stamp three cents stamp a brother wages were going up our postal deficit was rising and along with that prediction we get this from James rather maker who heads the National Association of Letter Carriers an increase from 6 cents to at least 8 cents for your first class letter. Amie I might even go up to THOMPSON But if it does go to 8 cents that means that cost is only doubled in the last 20 years the cost of an automobile has more than doubled in the same in sort of people who run a good postal service like I want to get automobile when they want to know how their products have an American market they have to pay for it. But hopefully those penalties won't be the only results of postal reform. We talked with the postmaster general Winton blunt. Obviously we want to improve service to the American people and we want to do it in such a manner that would provide the services provided to the American people in the most economical way
possible. This is going to bring about changes in systems changes and methods changes in the way we do things in a Post Office Department. And I. Fully expect that this will also bring about providing new services to the American public new kinds of communication services some regular mammograms that we instituted this pace year which really creates a new communications device. It's faster than fastest lighter and cheaper than the cheapest telegram. So this is a new service to the American public. I think there will be other kinds of new services that will be coming along. So if all goes as planned some immediate loss in some types of services will give way to improvements. Some day the average man my dad. But how long. Let's get a few opinions. Again the postmaster general. The legislation provides that the transition from the United States Post Office Department to the U.S. Postal Service will be completed not more than a year from the date the president signed the legislation August 12
1970. But on the other hand it be less than real estate far as far as the public is consigned to expect bread dramatic kind of changes in the very near future. This is a massive department it's a 10 billion dollar apartment it's seven hundred fifty thousand employees. It's been run the way it's been run for a little less centuries. You're not going to turn that kind of operation around overnight. It's going to take some time. I've said that we were going to have a cautious Christ program in getting on with the job and that means we're not going to try to wastefully throw money around but we are going to try to move fast. And General Blunt's assistant for operations Frank Nunn look just we really don't know how fast we can move the minds of men. The mail itself. But I would suggest that we're trying to start the ball rolling today. And I am hopeful that like a snowball rolling downhill it will gain momentum as time goes on.
The first key issue here is to get ourselves. Well you know I was for the basic decision making. Second Lady is to organize ourselves so that we can plan for a long term impact rather than operating in a crisis situation almost every day. And then third of course is the matter of. After organization to make sure that the staffing of the organization is adequately trained and motivated to achieve the goals that we we want to achieve. That will be the postal workers handling the mechanics of many of the reforms we ask. Union President James Wright a maker how long he expects it will be before the man on the other side of the mailbox feels the changes. I hope he doesn't have to wait as long as we waited for the challenge. But he's going to have to wait. There's no question about it because all of these things and not come about until for example there. Are more machines.
And more improvement in the present equipment. Better buildings greater facilities out of the mail and to process the mail. And a crisis and nothing can come about in the way of change until there is more money. And I'm referring to the fact the postmaster general myself some 10 billion dollars in bonds for the equipment that I've just mentioned getting down to specifics the first step already has taken place. President Nixon named nine members to the Board of Governors of the U.S. Postal Service. These members are subject to Senate confirmation with hearings due when Congress comes back for its lame duck session. The five members of the Postal Rate Commission also named by the president are not subject to Senate approval. The Board of Governors is to run the Postal Service just as a board of directors runs a large commercial corporation. Why do we need this kind of organization inside government. We ask General Blunt rather than our own. Government corporations if you will. The Tennessee Valley Authority the Panama Canal Company so well as
but they are insignificant compared to the size of what we're dealing with here. We have 25 percent of our the federal government employees. So it's a massive department. This is one of the largest operations in the world as a matter of fact we have 750000 employees compared to American Telephone Telegraph with about 800000 employees. General Motors probably has a few less employees and we do. But it's a massive operation. So this sheer size mandate some very special organizational steps after their Senate confirmation the Board of Governors will choose an executive officer to run the corporation a postmaster general and he will be strictly an executive officer not a politician not a member of the president's cabinet. He in turn will name a deputy and they'll both join the board of governors and the great commission the five experts named by the president. We've already heard it predicted that one of their first tasks will
be somewhat of a Hobson's choice. The price tag on mail service is going up but the difference will still be important under the present system. Congress sets the rates. Let's go back to Representative Belsky who is chairman of the House Post Office Committee. Any time that a politician has a rage the people who don't receive the fair share they say rather that they voted in the best interest of somebody else. They have experts in this field because this staff would be an expertise when they propose these raids and be taken over to the brother of governors. Then I want a man that's going to be in politics they men they're going to look up they know at the cost of operation that they're dealing with in one organization they're telling each other the truth like it's toll over us is well it's costing us so much when we don't have the figures they always give us the figures. And there you are behind these figures will be up to date and they say this is the thing now the Congress has to. Look at me like a watchdog. I still feel that by having the raid commissions and leaving that response to the raid commissioners I think it's going to be in the
best interest because then they can say that these are the people representing the consumer it's not about the politician the special interest is only the consumers people because they're only taxpayers like everybody else and they come from big business which are people that are paying the highest grades coming in from our phases of our industry and they're going to be paying and they feel that they're going to give us an equitable rate and is going to be justified by the one that they're going to propose. But of course all these changes at the top can't by themselves do the job of getting the mail to you any more quickly or directly under the board of governors. The postmaster general and his aides will be the executives of the postal service. Again General Blunt the problem really of recruiting and building the kind of management infrastructure throughout the Postal Service to really support. My. Own going operation is one that's going to give us a lot of difficulty but I get why we don't have the heart to do it accomplishing on the other hand this doesn't mean there will be a wholesale turnover.
Mr Nunn list tells us a good portion of the present staff is ready and waiting for the transition. In fact they've been waiting for the opportunity to perform. As effectively as they seem they're kind of brats in private industry doing and they're very anxious to have their hands are tied by this rather. Intensive and extensive postal manual that we've had for example. This is a document of thirty two hundred pages that tells them how to dot every i and cross every T. I would be interested in knowing that will unveil the new edition of this and this will cut the size that menu in half. Rationing is that we we're able to believe that our people are intelligent and don't need to be guided as though they were kindergarten children. In. Every I doubt empty crossing when they were in the post office. This is not to say certainly there won't be any new blood in the postal service even down to the rank and file union leader rattle maker structures that point.
They can then see the man on the inside of the building but that's an important function to first of all distribute the mail properly it takes experience you know wreckers. We haven't been getting that kind of person I we've been recruiting from the bottom of the employment barrel and now are because of the pay increases and the improvement in fringe benefits. The fact that we can accomplish the top paying eight years rather than twenty one or twenty five in more. Or less adds up to an inducement. Younger person to come into the service and become skilled and that the public has first of all are going to recognize the change in the kind of a person that's going to distribute and deliver the mail. Mr. Wright a maker expectedly was very willing to talk about there was better wages and fringe benefits he looks for in the postal service. And that brings us to another major change created by the legislation one that's going to affect the unions the employees and the management collective bargaining up to now none less tells us it's been kind
of a unilateral decision making apparatus in which the post office consulted with its labor people. And indeed with all of its employees need not pay heed to the consultation. I believe the decision making power was in the power of the postal management itself. As we begin to undertake the quid pro quos. Normal labor negotiation we will be discussing on the one hand the tasks to be performed and the rewards for performing them intelligently. Here before this is been a very divided responsibility Congress decides the reward for our per career involvement and the post office has decided what should be done. After And big consultation but not necessarily negotiation. And I propose to put all of the employment. My
kids involving both working conditions the work to be performed and the rewards to be obtained on the table. Work them out in an honest to god fashion as you would private industry and hope that we will in this fashion exchange. Better performance for better wages. It's going to take. When I se it's a tremendous challenge to convert yourself from a lobbyist which is what we have been to a negotiator and I've talked to top postal officials on this subject and expressed the viewpoint that it's going to require patience and understanding because it's a complete new bargain where we're used to taking I promised to the hell that we must now I pack up our troubles and I will get bag and go to the bargaining table. It's going to be a new approach. Again it's going to require patience and understanding but I think that we can accomplish something.
Both men must stand or rather make are agreed that the old Washington catch phrase cautious optimism. Probably best describes their approach to the bargaining table although perhaps the unions are at this point the more apprehensive. But it was the union support for the reform that finally helped swing the votes on Capitol Hill. Reta maker tells us very obvious. The unions were accomplishing nothing in the legislative process. Outdated outmoded antiquated. And it was very obvious that this administration could not get both to reform my life. There was some agreement some of the National Association of Medicare's led the way. In this regard. And we did so. So that we could accomplish some of the objectives that we've had in mind for years and one was to get out of the legislative process. And another was to have some kind of right just this side of the right to strike which we are still seeking in the courts and that right has the right to go to binding arbitration.
So we're pleased about what has happened and now it's a wait and see attitude that we have now but for this year if the unions had always opposed the various plans for reforming the post office what happened when one years from now goes back over the year 1970 and reviews what happened the postal service they might feel that it was a script well written and well carried out. But it's not so it was more ironic that there was something that was necessary. We warned the Congress on a dozen occasions what would happen. And then we wanted the White House in the form of three million letters that were sent to the president last November almost a year ago. He got three million letters urging enactment of legislation to improve the pace that is supposed to work. But he got so many letters someone invited me over and wanted to know why I could not agree with the cooperation
typo's was fabric and my feelings today are the same as they were then at the White House. And that is I feel that the post office department belongs to the people and that it should never be out of the oversight of the Congress of the United States not that they should have their hands muddying up the post a lot but that they should be able to control such things as the services that the people are entitled to. Not necessarily the cost because that becomes an a political issue. But when I told the spokesman for the president what my objection is and this union's objections were they try to overcome them. And they did that. And so after we have had our objections overcome there's nothing more to do except to suffer and then the immovable object no longer met the irresistible force and we now have a better payscale and we now have what is going to be a better processor.
But of course nobody got everything he wanted from the postal reform bill. Not Mr rata maker not Mr Blunt Not even President Nixon. Right to make a mention the right to strike excluded from the reform bill. We can't escape without discussing the events of last spring. Frankly I think that the job action taken and mine is really a blessing in disguise even though it may have been distasteful to some people. I think that it forced upon the unions and upon the Congress the urgency of bringing to a head of this serious problem of. The. Failure to recognize a means of course to workers and their karma. I'm in and out of them. And the fact that the awful service has not been seamless and almost 200 years it took something like a work stoppage from Dr X to bring this to a head and I'm glad that it did in a way rata makers views are paralleled within the postal management. Mr Nunn list tells us the public had taken the mail service for granted.
This is kind of like comfort you're not conscious of it until you're uncomfortable and you're not conscious of how good the service is or how vital it is and suddenly it was nonexistent. This did indeed cause a rather traumatic shock in the minds of many and they hide so many organisations because what has happened and what finally came into the forefront of recognition. Where is the post office no longer is merely a communicator. It is indeed an economic force. 80 percent of the mail is generated by the business community. A raft of checks ranging from Social Security and Welfare to payments of bills is a very principal focus of the post office operations. But in spite of that concession there's going to be a continued hard line on keeping the men on the job. The most frank expression of that came from William curtain an attorney dealing in labor law. That was one of President Nixon's original choices for the Board of Governors.
I think first of all the statute is designed primarily to protect the public from interruptions in this essential service and that's a permanent paramount concern. But even that was qualified it's a misconception to view the no strike prohibition or provision of the statute as a means by which management can escape its responsibility to deal fairly and promptly with the needs of their employees. And I can't believe and don't believe. And you know the caliber of the other governors appointed by the president. Employee Relations will take a second seat to any of the vital problems affecting the postal service. Mr. Curtin won't be sitting on the board of governors he withdrew his name from consideration because of his business connections. Some might have seen a conflict of interest in his clients concerned with postal matters but he did have a prediction on one of the unsettled issues that will face the postal service. The unions want union shops. I think that as in the private sector generally the organized labor
will continue to suggest to Congress that the law should permit Union security provisions. However it seems to me that it will be in the best interests of both organized labor and the management of the postal service. If we direct our first attention to the solution of the substantive problems affecting employees I think that those employees will undoubtedly support the unions they select by the payment of fair. And Regular do and that the need for union security provisions in the long will probably prove to be. Even the less necessary than in the private sector. Then the union side of it. Mr. Wright a banker. The issue of the coffee shop run not be resolved and you know we have a more liberal Congress who feel that all postal employees who share in the fruits of my labors as a union should be paying appropriate premiums in the form of dues so that perhaps
it is a long ways off and the hard practical side of it. The exploration of the union shop was expected all along at least by Rep. Belsky we knew that we were surprised that the administration requested he was surprised that they requested because we didn't think we had the votes to run it through. I think of the Read the bragging table now they have a good negotiator. Now they've got the opportunity to negotiate because before they used to come down to Congress and they said you're politicking now they've got negotiators they've got people that understand labor management that are professionals in that category. I feel that eventually they're going to come down with satisfactory because many of the credit. The reason I didn't get everything I wanted Mr. Brunton the administration part of this is an act of compromise. There are other differences on the way postal reform was written more basic even philosophical differences. And they deal with that philosophical bugaboo money everyone agrees the postal system is a public service. But should it pay for
itself. The new law says yes Congress will give the U.S. Postal Service subsidies at least until the Orwellian 1984. But after that it's on its own. The stamps you buy will be paying all the bills. Postmaster General Blunt is eager even chafing at the bit. The legislation provides for a much longer period of time that I think is necessary to reach a self-sustaining position there. They provide until 1984. I think that five years from now we will have a drastically different postal system. I think that it will begin post-apartheid will begin to notice it in little ways from time to time. But they don't like to exaggerate during this five year period and do it that way or by that time we can look for drastically improved savers. I do subscribe to the transitional kind of philosophy I think it is necessary and that's just a question of a disagreement of how that period should last I think that there should be more of us
to back a manager but to do this thing at a shorter period of time. Congressman don't ski doesn't think it can be done. They say they're going to be on the break even basis. I wish my luck in the world but I know what's going to happen I've been in here 12 years and I saw this post office grow I've seen today that's almost eighty two billion pieces of mail. That's more than we deliver more mail in one month than probably the whole year of deliveries all year. And Mr. Roger Baker doesn't think it should be done. I'm not for a moment and I'm wanting to indicate that I am pleased that the establishment of a new US caucus side of this because I would run motivation of that postal service and that is the desire of the management of it to establish and a few years a break even point. And it's always been my philosophy since we are going to rise in 1889 that. You cannot break even in an establishment that provides a service. So under the
new US Postal Service two things are inevitable. Iran has the increased rate and the other is a reduction in services by the public being told they no longer need those services if there is old fashioned as the attitudes of Ben Franklin. It's happening today because of the board of governors even takes over. We are being told what's good for us and this is what I resent. On the other hand there is so much good about the reform act that I am not ready yet to be too critical. At any rate that's the way the law is written and that's the way it will be tried. We began by asking what happens now that postal reform is law. Of course as with anything new. To some extent no one will know until it is tried. But certainly those doing the trying do need something to aim at. Once again back to Mr Nunn left maximally service and minimize cost. And here is a very delicate balance that has got to be maintained. I
suggest that. We are trying to find out really how good or how bad we are in terms of service. Run. Number that ideal and constantly from I don't know if occasion is the fact that if we are as pure as I braced our men and I think we still have 500 million letters that are not satisfactory simply because of the sheer right. Now because we don't get 500 million complaints we couldn't have them in the department anywhere other than with the goods and the rest of us. Rep the public was aware of as a lot it was the stress and the not delivered as promptly as they would like that they're not aware of the tremendous barb that really gets their program on time. We're endeavoring to make market surveys in the field the phone that really rather is the magnitude of the problem rather than exist.
Now if this reformed post office doesn't work even though there is no reason to believe it shouldn't. Where would we be then. Mr Rat a maker is quick to make the point. The U.S. Postal Service is the people's Postal Service and the kind of services that they're not going to receive depends upon the people. If they're not pleased about it they should do something about it and not just accept the fact wow it's the best that we can do. I think we should always try to strive. Whether you are a recipient of the mail or whether your employee to have the best Postal Service second to none of them want to own We're not at that point now. And so in the final analysis that's what happens now. A lot of people work together to make the US Postal Service work to make it work for the postal patron to make it work for themselves to make it improvement over the U.S. Post Office begun by Ben Franklin. Not everyone agrees on how it was done or how to carry it out but everyone agrees that it is an improvement and it can bring better service to those who use the mails.
This is John although. You've been listening to a federal case a weekly examination of the national issue from the perspective of our nation's capital. A federal case is produced with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is the national educational radio network.
A Federal Case II
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Postal reform... what happens now that it's law?
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National Educational Radio Network
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"A Federal Case II" is a weekly program produced by the National Educational Radio Network which examines current political topics in the United States and Washington, D.C. Each episode features interviews with experts, members of the public, and lawmakers concerning a specific issue of government.
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