Postal Service contract talks up against new Tuesday deadline

AP file photo
With contract talks with two major unions having officially expired over the weekend, the U.S. Postal Service is facing a stalemate with the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association but remains in negotiations with the American Postal Workers Union under pressure of a revised deadline set for noon on Tuesday.

Months of negotiations leading up to the Nov. 20 cutoff date pitted the USPS' desire to adopt more flexible schedules and use more part-time workers against the unions' goal of protecting members against wage freezes, benefit cuts and layoffs.

The outcome of the talks will affect 324,000 employees, whose wages and benefits exceeded $20 billion in 2009. By law, strikes are not permitted.

The Postal Service is negotiating against the backdrop of an $8.5 billion loss in fiscal 2010, declining use of first-class mail in an age of e-mail, and pressure to eliminate Saturday delivery.

APWU represents 209,000 employees who work as clerks, mechanics, vehicle drivers, custodians and administrative aides. NRLCA represents 67,000 career employees and 48,000 substitutes who primarily deliver mail in rural and suburban areas.

APWU officials over the weekend remained optimistic that an agreement can be reached. "Restoring work that has been outsourced or assigned to managerial personnel will bring stability to APWU members who have suffered extensive excessing and reassignments," said union President Cliff Guffey in a statement. "Every proposal we have made to preserve jobs for our members will also benefit the Postal Service, because APWU members can perform the work more efficiently and less expensively than subcontractors."

NRLCA released a statement, as reported in The Washington Post, saying the Postal Service had proposed "wage freezes and significant benefit cuts for current career employees, including the abolishment of cost-of-living adjustments and a new salary schedule with a lower wage scale for new hires." It said USPS also was seeking to end a no-layoff clause in the current contract.

The Postal Service declined to characterize the talks. "It's best to negotiate at the table and not through the media," USPS spokesman Mark Saunders told Government Executive. "If a contract is agreed upon by tomorrow, the membership would then have to consider it and we'd have a formal agreement by the end of January."

The terms of the unions' 2006-2010 collective bargaining agreement will remain in effect until a new deal is reached, either through negotiation or binding arbitration.

If the impasse continues, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service would appoint a mediator.

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