Two U.S. Postal Service union contracts expired for the third time in three months Friday.
USPS announced that separate contract negotiations with the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union have come to "an impasse."
Contracts with both unions expired at midnight Nov. 20, 2011. The parties then agreed to extend negotiations until midnight Dec. 16, 2011 and again until Friday.
According to USPS, the existing contracts will be followed until terms of a new contract are resolved. The parties are currently discussing how they will proceed. Postal employees are not permitted to strike because Congress has designated the Postal Service as an essential service to the nation, the agency said.
Last year, the Postal Service announced plans to close 252 of its 487 mail processing facilities. With these closures, first-class mail would move to a two-to-three day standard delivery time and next-day delivery will be rare. The move is expected to eliminate roughly 28,000 jobs nationwide.
The Postal Service has said it must cut about $20 billion in costs by 2015 to return to profitability. Although 80 percent of the agency's costs are related to labor expenses, continuing declines in mail volume also have contributed significantly to its fiscal woes.