Postal Unions Break Off Talks

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The National Association of Letter Carriers, Washington, DC, and the American Postal Workers Union, the two largest U.S. Postal Service unions, broke off negotiations with the federal agency and rejected its latest offers recently after four months of contract meetings.

The Mail Handlers Union, which is also negotiating with the USPS for a new contract, have decided to continue bargaining with the federal agency past the expiration of its contract.

While both the NALC and the APWU said they are ready for arbitration, neither have submitted the dispute to binding arbitration, and under law, all parties must mutually agree that they are at impasse before they can take the next step toward arbitration.

The unions are awaiting Postmaster General William J. Henderson's next move before going forward. The talks, expected to resume sometime next week, center around the unions' demand for substantial wage increases. The unions cite postal profits of nearly $5 billion in the past four years, along with modest inflation in the nation, a healthy economy and new leadership at the Postal Service.

While the USPS would not comment on why it is resisting the NALC's and the APWU's wage demands, the agency reportedly is concerned about increases since labor costs account for 70 percent of the Postal Service's budget.

DMers who have been watching these developments are worried that if a contract is proposed by a third party -- instead of by postal management -- wages may increase. And with an increase in wages, said Jerry Cerasale, the DMA's senior vice president of government relations, mailers might have to pay increased rates.

"We think that in the interest of holding costs and having things work well, it is better to have a negotiated settlement over an arbitrated one," Cerasale said.

An arbitrated contract can actually end up "coming out worse [for a union]," said Pete Garwood, USPS manager of equal employment opportunity, compliance and appeal.

The USPS is assuring DMers that service for the holidays will continue as usual as postal workers are barred by federal law from striking. "Everybody understands the importance of Christmas mail," Garwood said. "We have gone to arbitration a number of times in the past, and it never really affected anything, and we don't expect it to this time."

Many postal workers and union officials had expressed optimism that the unions and postal management could reach an agreement this year, especially since the agency's new postmaster general, William J. Henderson, came to the agency as a labor relations specialist who said better relations with the unions was his top priority.

Henderson also stated last August that he is interested in a negotiated agreement this year as opposed to the last two agreements, which in 1990 and 1994 were arbitrated. The last time the unions reached an agreement with the agency was in 1987.

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