*2 Postal Unions Reach Tentative Agreements

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The U.S. Postal Service came to tentative agreements last week with two of its three postal unions after reporting that negotiations had broken down last month. This leaves only the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO facing arbitration.

"NALC remains dedicated to a negotiated agreement and will leave no stone unturned in pursuit of that goal," said Vincent Sombrotto, NALC president. "The arbitration procedure, of course, is the fail-safe procedure Congress has established for the parties. We have used it before. We can use it again."

Talks between the NALC and the USPS are continuing, and "[we are] optimistic that we will be able to avoid arbitration and reach an agreement with them as well," said Jack Potter, senior vice president for labor relations at the USPS.

Details of the two-year agreement, said APWU spokesman Tom Fahey, include

a wage increase of 6.75 percent over two years, which is higher than the 5.9 percent increase the Teamsters won after their 15-day strike against the United Parcel Service. Also included is a no lay-off clause and a 18-month ban on contracting out postal jobs to private companies -- private workers currently answer calls for several post offices and transport Priority Mail parcels in the Northeast.

The postal service also agreed to pay 85 percent of the health benefit premium for members -- the USPS currently pays 82 percent.

If ratified, the two-year pacts would become the first negotiated labor agreements reached for both unions since 1987. Industry insiders are questioning the two-year pact since most agreements are three- and four-year contracts. The USPS would not comment.

The news is pleasing to mailers, said Jerry Cerasale, the DMA's senior vice president of government relations. "We think that in the interest of holding costs down and having things work well, it is better to have a negotiated settlement over an arbitrated one," he said. But the DMA is still concerned that wages may increase -- and with an increase in wages, mailers might have to pay increased rates.

"We still have concerns about how much this is going to cost, since as of yet, we have not seen any specifics on the agreement," he said.

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