*USPS, NRLCA Reach Tentative Agreement on Contract Extension

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The U.S Postal Service announced yesterday that the agency and the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association tentatively agreed to the terms of a one-year extension of their 1995-1999 national agreement.

The NRLCA is the smallest of the four USPS unions -- 100,000 of the USPS' 112,443 rural letter carriers are members of the union.

The extension, which expires at midnight on Nov. 20 at midnight was agreed to after both groups met several times after reaching an impasse when the contract expired last November.

The extension will include 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 polices; and a 1 cent increase to the carriers' existing equipment maintenance allowance , which provides rural carriers -- who use their own vehicles to deliver mail -- gas and maintenance reimbursement. This increase will be applied retroactively to Jan. 1 of this year. Then, on July 1, an additional half-cent increase per mile becomes effective. Currently, rural carriers currently receive an EMA of 36 cents per mile.

The agreement is retroactive from Nov. 19, 1999. The NRLCA will now take the extension to its membership for ratification, and a vote is expected in early April.

On Sept. 1, the USPS and the NRLCA will go back to the bargaining table for an agreement, which could last anywhere from two to four years.

This is the last union to reach an agreement with the USPS.

In September, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the postal service reached an agreement on a three-year contract that gave all members a 3 percent pay increase on Nov. 20. On average, the annual base salary of letter carriers will increase to $37,508 in 2000, and, for the first time since 1907, letter carriers will be paid a higher rate than postal clerks.

Other features of the contract include annual wage increases of up to 2 percent over three years; six cost-of-living adjustments; and an increase in health benefits covered by the USPS, to 85 percent.

Also, in January of last year, the American Postal Workers Union -- the largest USPS union -- and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, agreed to new contracts. Terms of the APWU agreement included a 6.75 percent wage increase over two years and an 18-month ban on contracting postal jobs to private companies. The USPS also agreed to pay 85 percent of the health benefit premium for members. NPMHU members will receive pay increases of between 6 percent and 7 percent over the next two years.

Direct marketers are generally concerned when union wages and benefits are increased because these events usually have a direct effect on postal rate increases. When the NALC agreement was ratified, for example, insiders said the decision could cost the USPS hundreds of millions of dollars and could have extreme consequences on the agency's ability to remain competitive in the marketplace.

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