Postal Service expects 15,000 to 20,000 buyouts

WASHINGTON — In another attempt to put a dent in the huge financial loses suffered by the U.S. Postal Service, the agency has negotiated a buyout plan with its largest labor organization, the American Postal Workers Union.

The union said full-time career employees are eligible for a $15,000 payment in two installments; $10,000 in May of 2013 and $5,000 a year later. Most who take the offer will leave at the end of January.

“Our goal was to achieve an incentive for members who are ready to end their postal careers; to ensure that no groups of employees are excluded, and to lessen the hardships of excessing for those who remain,” union President Cliff Guffey said. “This agreement accomplishes those objectives.”

The Postal Service said 115,155 employees, including clerks, mechanics, drivers, custodians and some administrative personnel represented by the APWU, are eligible for the buyout, and 15,000 to 20,000 are expected to take it.

Though announced this week, the buyout agreement was signed last Friday, two days before the Postal Service defaulted on a $5.6 billion payment to the Treasury to prefund retiree health benefits. It also missed an August payment of $5.5 billion.

The Postal Service, which gets no tax money for its operating expenses, posted a third-quarter loss of $5.2 billion, significantly greater than its $3.1 billion loss for the same April-June period last year.

The agency announced in May that it was working with its unions on retirement incentives.

“The Postal Service has reduced the size of its workforce by 244,000 career employees since 2000 without resorting to layoffs,” Megan Brennan, the Postal Service’s chief operating officer, said at the time. “We are a responsible employer, and we will work with our employees to ensure a smooth transition to a much leaner organization.”

Part of that transition is the ongoing move to close postal facilities and consolidate operations. The current plan calls for closing 140 mail processing plants, out of 461, by February and shutting 89 others by February 2014. That timetable could change, as it has before, if “circumstances of the Postal Service change in the interim,” an agency news release said.

“When fully implemented in late 2014, the Postal Service expects its network consolidations to generate approximately $2.1 billion in annual cost reductions and lead to total workforce reduction up to 28,000 employees,” it said.

The buyouts are a small part of a larger strategy the Postal Service is pursuing in hope of digging out of a deep financial hole. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has a five-pronged legislative wish list that would allow five-day, instead of six-day, mail delivery; change the mandate to prefund retiree health benefits; refund to the USPS $11 billion in pension plan overpayments; remake the workers’ compensation program; and allow the Postal Service to offer a greater range of products.

He also wants to withdraw postal employees from the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program in favor of an agency-run program, but it is unlikely the unions would approve of that.

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