Seth Perlman / AP file photo

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Yet Another Impasse at the Postal Service as Two More Labor Contracts Expire

The fate of compensation and other issues for 250,000 employees now hangs in the balance.

Two contracts covering more than 250,000 U.S. Postal Service employees expired on Friday, with parties unable to agree on provisions such as pay rates and layoff protections. 

USPS and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union have agreed to extend talks, though the union said the number of tentative agreements the two sides have so far reached is “relatively limited.” The National Association of Letter Carriers, meanwhile, declared an impasse in its talks. The union and the Postal Service will go to mediation, but appear headed for arbitration in 60 days. The two sides will use the mediation process to continue talks, as well as agree to the arbitrators who will issue a binding decision if they fail to strike an agreement.    

The standoffs with NALC and the mail handlers come as the Postal Service is currently in the interest arbitration process with another major labor group, the American Postal Workers Union.

NALC said the “major issues” still outstanding include letter carrier pay and benefits, the use of non-career employees, no-layoff provisions and an array of new policies issued by management. The union recently sued the Postal Service over an expanding pilot program that divides current letter carrier responsibilities into two distinct jobs and would lead to some employees staying out making deliveries for longer periods each day. The group said the changes would “radically refashion” the letter carrier position. 

The union last signed a contract for its 210,000 members in 2017, reaching an agreement without resorting to arbitration. Its rural counterpart—the National Rural Letter Carriers Association—recently agreed to a contract with postal management through bargaining, which will lead to 4.2% pay increases over the life of the deal coupled with higher health care costs for employees. The Postal Service said that agreement would lead to “continued restraint” of labor costs. 

The mail handlers union, which represents about 44,000 employees, remained more hopeful a deal could be reached, despite a lack of substantial progress to date. 

“Discussions are continuing,” the group said in a statement, to give “bargaining representatives additional time to reach a comprehensive settlement agreement.” The statement added that “the parties have agreed to extend their negotiations because there remains a shared hope that an overall agreement can still be reached.” 

In June, Postmaster General Megan Brennan said USPS was “look[ing] forward to productive negotiations” with both of the unions. 

“With each union, we will seek an agreement that is fair to our employees, fair to our customers, recognizes the realities of today’s marketplace and positions the Postal Service for success moving forward,” Brennan said. 

APWU and its 200,000 members are currently awaiting an arbitration ruling after the union reached an impasse with USPS. The two sides earlier this year brought in a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, who spent several days hearing arguments from each party before declaring them too far apart to be able to help. The two sides were also hung up on issues such as pay and layoff protections, as well as new tiers of workers.

Members of all three unions continue to work under the provisions of their previous contracts while they await new agreements.