Rural Letter Carriers, USPS Begin Contract Talks

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The U.S. Postal Service and the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association begin negotiations today for a new rural letter carrier contract.

The NRLCA is the smallest of the four USPS unions, with a membership of 114,000 rural letter carriers. Unlike city letter carriers, rural carriers do not work overtime. The average salary for rural carriers starts at $27,498, and the maximum salary is $38,202.

Earlier this year, the unions and the USPS agreed to the terms of a one-year extension of their 1995-1999 national agreement. The extension, which expires at midnight on Nov. 20, was retroactive to Nov. 19, 1999.

The extension included a 1.4 percent general wage increase and continuing cost-of-living adjustments. Other provisions include the establishment of a part-time, flexible rural carrier position; compensation for regular rural carriers working their relief day; modified route-adjustment policies; and a 1-cent increase to the carriers' equipment maintenance allowance, which reimburses rural carriers -- who use their own vehicles to deliver mail -- for gas and maintenance.

The USPS began talks last month with its two largest postal unions, the American Postal Workers Union and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. Both unions' contracts also expire Nov. 20.

The negotiation process allowing unions and the USPS to decide on new national agreements is based on collective bargaining rules under the National Labor Relations Act, which requires groups to begin formal negotiations 90 days before their contracts expire.

Direct mailers are watching the negotiations closely because 80 percent of all postal costs are labor related -- including wages, benefits and salaries -- so they directly impact postal rates.

In addition, DMers are wondering if the 2000-01 rate case will affect wages. For example, while the USPS has submitted its case request with wage projections within it already, unions might study the Postal Rate Commission's decision -- which is expected to be presented around Nov. 8 -- and try to increase their wage requests at that time.

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