A 43-cent stamp?

November 27, 1990

If you aren't ecstatic over the 30-cent standard postage stamp which is due to arrive next spring, then how do you like the prospect of a 43-cent stamp that could come by 1993?

That's what a first-class letter will cost, according to the U.S. Postal Service, if the wage demands of the postal workers' unions are met. Given this ominous fact, it's little wonder that summer-long negotiations for new union contracts broke down last week and now seem headed for compulsory arbitration.

Union negotiators are seeking a raise of 8 percent next year to be followed by 7 percent increases in 1992 and 1993. To grant such wage increases to 660,000 U.S. Postal Service workers -- the nation's largest civilian work force -- would cost $50 billion, according to postal service estimates.

Such an increase, needless to say, not only would be highly inflationary at a time when the nation is in recession, but also would greatly increase the already large pay gap between postal workers and the citizens whose mail they deliver.

Ever since the postal service became an independent agency in 1971, salaries and benefits of clerks and letter carriers have increased at a rate above general inflation -- while the wages of other public-sector employees as well as non-public employees either stood still or were in decline.

For example: The New York Times reported on Sunday that the earnings of American production workers in all private industries actually fell, when inflation is taken into account, from an average of $186.94 a week in 1970 to $166.52 a week in 1989.

Postal workers are already making, on average, $37,048 in wages and benefits, compared to $25,223 for all workers in the private sector. The average base salary of the postal worker, not even counting benefits, is $2,000 higher than the comparable figure for both teachers and police officers.

Yet these are the very people who are now being asked by the postal unions to pay 43 cents to mail a first-class letter.

The Postal Service Reorganization Act which created our present mail system 19 years ago expressly stated that postal wages should be comparable to those in private industry. Clearly the present wage scales violate the act's intent, and the trend must be halted or we will, in the words of Postmaster General Anthony M. Frank, "price the postal service out of business."

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