USPS, APWU reach tentative deal

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The U.S. Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, reached a tentative four-year contract agreement Dec. 6, and the union's Rank-and-File Bargaining Advisory Committee voted unanimously to approve it at a meeting Dec. 7, sending the pact to members for a final vote.

Also, an announcement about an agreement with the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association was expected to be made late Dec. 8.

"This agreement will make fundamental changes to postal employment because the American Postal Workers Union dared to challenge the past," said Bill Burrus, APWU president. "We refused to accept the premise that 'the way it has always been' is good enough. The result is that if the contract is ratified, all present and future APWU-represented employees will experience vastly improved wages, benefits and conditions of employment. This is an excellent agreement that protects the rights and interests of postal workers as well as the American people."

The tentative agreement, which would run through Nov. 20, 2010, affects 272,000 career employees in the clerk, maintenance and motor vehicle crafts.

The deal provides for two wage increases and an upgrade for all APWU-represented employees, in addition to cost-of-living adjustments twice per year. It also provides for the elimination of part-time flexibles as a workforce category in large offices, no later than Dec. 1, 2007. All PTFs in offices of 200 man-years or more would be converted to full-time regular by that date.

The USPS would pay 95 percent of health-care premiums for employees enrolled in the APWU Consumer Driven Health Plan; for workers enrolled in other health plans, the employees' share of premiums would increase 1 percent per year for four years, beginning in 2008.

Agreements specific to each craft (clerk, maintenance, motor vehicle services and support services) were negotiated as well.

Mailers and the USPS are watching negotiations closely because labor expenses are 78 percent of the agency's cost base and thus are the most important item affecting rates.

The USPS and APWU formally opened national contract negotiations Aug. 29. This year was the first time new contracts were negotiated separately at the same time with all four of the postal service's largest unions.

Though negotiations continue with the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, talks with the National Association of Letter Carriers were unsuccessful and the two parties will enter the dispute resolution process, which may include binding arbitration that could begin next spring.

"We worked hard and in good faith to reach a negotiated agreement," said Gerry McKiernan, a USPS spokesman. "Regrettably, the parties were unable to reach a final resolution."

In general, the negotiations with the unions cover wages, benefits and conditions of employment. The NALC, however, revealed key components in the proposal from the USPS, and they include major changes to the pay and benefits that NALC members receive and those they would get in retirement. According to the NALC, they include:

• No wage increase for the first year of the contract; instead, a lump-sum payment (that presumably would not be added to the base pay) would be made.

• A 1 percent general increase in the second year and 1 percent in the third.

• Continuation of cost-of-living adjustments for this contract, but paid only as lump sums (not added to base pay). Also, COLAs would be eliminated at the end of the contract.

The NALC has 300,058 active and retired members, of which about 214,084 are active city delivery letter carriers employed by the USPS.

Bob McLean, executive director of the Mailers Council, said the USPS proposal would save the postal service millions of dollars because annual payments and COLAs paid as lump sums are long-term cost issues that do not add to a carrier's base pay.

"A carrier's base pay in the last three years of employment, or the 'high three,' determines the amount of the carrier's pension," he said. "These changes would offer substantial long-term savings to the USPS over the next several decades for more than 200,000 employees - in this craft alone."

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