USPS, unions extend contract talks again

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Despite a Nov. 30 deadline, the U.S. Postal Service and its four largest unions continued contract talks Dec. 1 in an effort to reach negotiated settlements and avoid arbitration, the agency said last week.

There was no word on a new deadline. But at least one union, the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, is telling its members that it has now directed its legal counsel to take steps to prepare for arbitration.

In a Nov. 29 telephone message reporting to members, APWU president Bill Burrus said: "Negotiations have continued following the holiday weekend, but we have yet to find agreement on important issues of wages, benefits and working conditions. The parties are in general agreement on the provisions that must be resolved, but to date we have been unable to find common ground."

Mr. Burrus continued: "Important issues are at stake as we address the fundamental subjects of employment, and final agreement has been difficult to achieve. I have avoided setting artificial deadlines as long as we are engaged in positive discussions, but I have now directed our legal counsel to take the initial steps to prepare for arbitration. A voluntary agreement is possible, but we must move forward to achieve a new contract."

Most observers long have predicted that negotiations would be resolved through binding arbitration.

Negotiations, which began in August, originally were scheduled to end Nov. 20. They were extended until midnight Nov. 30 with the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO; the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. The APWU had not set a deadline.

Direct marketers are watching the negotiations closely because labor costs are 78 percent of the postal service's expenditure base and have the largest effect on rates.

The negotiations with the unions cover wages, benefits and conditions of employment. The USPS wants to change the current general wage increase and COLA adjustments. The postal service also wants to change how it handles health care benefits. In general, the USPS pays a higher percentage of total health care costs for postal employees than the federal government pays for federal employees.

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