*APWU, USPS End Contract Talks

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Negotiations between the U.S. Postal Service and its largest union, the American Postal Workers Union, broke off late Tuesday without an agreement.

The parties now will follow the statutory dispute resolution procedure, which could include mediation and fact-finding and, ultimately, binding arbitration.

In a message to members posted on the APWU Web site at midnight Tuesday, Bill Burrus, APWU executive vice president, said, "In the final hours of negotiations, postal management was not forthcoming. ... These negotiations have failed because management's wage proposal, dictated by the Postmaster General and the Board of Governors, is not only inadequate, it is shameful and insulting to postal employees."

According to Burrus, the APWU wage demand is for a 13.5 percent wage increase over a three-year contract, among other stipulations. He said the USPS' offer would provide no wage increases over a four-year contract and would reduce health benefits.

APWU members include about 355,000 postal clerks, maintenance employees and motor vehicle operators.

"Our battle now turns to the statutory process, where the APWU will continue to demand real increases in wages and benefits and improvements in working conditions," Burrus said.

Last week, the USPS and the APWU, along with the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, agreed to continue labor negotiations beyond the expiration of their contracts on Nov. 20. At the same time, the USPS and the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, which represents 114,000 rural letter carriers, failed to reach a negotiated settlement by the contract's Nov. 20 expiration date and did not continue the talks. Postal management and the rural carriers' union have also agreed to follow the statutory dispute resolution procedure.

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 affect postal rates.

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