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Some 2,800 postmasters, gathered this week in Salt Lake City for a national convention, have taken a lickin' on lots of things in their years of service.

But they're not about to lie down without fighting for their rights over cuts in leave time for conventions and training, pay issues, closing of post offices and other matters.Hugh Bates, Clanton, Ala., president of the National Association of Postmasters of the United States, stepped to a Salt Palace podium Monday at the opening general session of the organization's 92nd annual convention. And after a rousing fireworks display and spirited rendition of the national anthem, Bates fired up the convention delegates.

On a two-year leave from his job as postmaster in Clanton, Bates told the association, which is a management association, not a union, that the position of postmaster is "still one of the most time-honored and respected of all occupations." But he said the efforts of postmasters and thousands of other Postal Service employees are "on the line."

The postmaster, who is serving a two-year term as national president, said "little can be served by trying to sugarcoat what we know is not a happy time for many postmasters."

Postmasters, including about 90 from Utah, attend the convention at their own expense. All postmasters are granted three days leave for state conventions and five days for national conventions and training seminars. But the Postal Service wants to cut that in half.

Bates said Postal Service headquarters has already taken away 50 days of administrative leave from national officers. A cost-of-living adjustment was not given to postal supervisors, Bates said, but was given to all the unions, regardless of whether they went to arbitration.

"Postmasters will be next. We are anticipating a proposal that would take away 50 percent of our convention leave" and provide no bonus system for managers at levels 13 and below, Bates said.

He said the association has differences with Postmaster General Marvin Runyon but that "we must support him to the extent we can." He said Runyon, who will address the convention Thursday, "knows he's not a popular fellow right now - not with the unions, not with the management organizations, not with many of its own headquarters staff."

He said Runyon has what he believes to be a "vision of a healthy, competitive Postal Service of the future. We just hope and pray his vision turns out to be 20/20 . . . "

Bates pointed to often "empty promises" regarding postmasters' consultative rights and not being kept informed on the Postal Service's plans for the future.

The president said the self-supporting organization made a record profit of $1.8 billion last year. But to the Postal Service's discredit, he said, the highest paid employees in the Postal Service reaped the largest share of that profit in their paychecks. Bates said he is in hot water with Postal Service headquarters because he dared to intervene before the Postal Rate Commission on proposed box rent increases.

Bates said he was told that his action meant he was "not being a team player." He said the national association is "trying to save the Postal Service money" by challenging Postal Service proposals that could result in higher costs.

He said 239 post offices were closed nationwide in 1995, with a total of 6,367 such facilities shut down in the past 30 years. He said postmasters and other postal employees have many problems. But, ultimately, their success will be determined on how well "we work together to turn our problems into opportunities."