(Updates with union comment in seventh paragraph.)
June 22 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Postal Service, facing insolvency without approval to delay a $5.5 billion payment for worker health benefits, will suspend contributions to an employee retirement account to save $800 million this year.
The Postal Service will stop paying employer contributions to the defined-benefit Federal Employees Retirement System, which covers about 85 percent of career postal workers, it said today in an e-mailed statement. The $115 million payment, made every other week, will stop on June 24, the statement said.
Suspending payments to the retirement account will help “conserve cash and preserve liquidity,” the statement said. The agency estimates it has overpaid by $6.9 billion and has asked Congress to pass legislation to return that money.
Congress must “make bold, quick and substantive reforms,” said Art Sackler, executive director of the Washington-based Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, which represents corporate mail customers. “The USPS is hanging by a thread.”
The agency and U.S. Office of Personnel Management will ask the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze the decision, said David Partenheimer, a Postal Service spokesman.
“Regardless of the outcome of the Office of Legal Counsel review, the Postal Service believes there will be no impact on employees,” Partenheimer said in an e-mail.
Union Plans ‘Every Step’
Congress “must act now” to correct pension inequities, and the American Postal Service Workers Union “will take every step necessary” to protect retirement benefits, President Cliff Guffey said in a statement. The postal union, the world’s largest, said it represents 220,000 workers and retirees.
The Postal Service has 563,402 career employees and 469,401 retirees, Partenheimer said.
Postal Service Inspector General David Williams said in January 2010 that the agency had been overcharged for its pension obligations. The Postal Service had overpaid by $75 billion, and if that was returned, it would create a surplus that could be transferred to a health-benefits fund, he found.
The service wants the authority to reduce pre-payment of health benefits for retirees and has said it will not be able to make a $5.5 billion payment due Sept. 30 for health benefits for future retirees. It also wants to end Saturday delivery.
The Postal Service reported a loss of $8.5 billion in its 2010 fiscal year. It also reported a widening second-quarter loss, to $2.6 billion, on declining volumes of first-class mail.
The service will continue to transmit employee contributions to the pension fund and will make payments to the Thrift Savings Plan, a defined-contribution federal retirement plan, Chief Human Resources Officer Anthony Vegliante said in the statement.
“The Congress and the administration have left the Postal Service with no other choice,” said Gene Del Polito, head of the Association for Postal Commerce, an Alexandria, Virginia- based group that represents postal customers. “The money’s not there, and they can’t get any more from customers that already are fleeing the mail.”
--Editors: Bernard Kohn, Andrea Snyder
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