Now that the U.S. Postal Service and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union are officially arbitration-bound, it seems time for an overview of the state of USPS labor negotiations that will affect both the mail carrier’s bottom line, not to mention the incomes and working conditions of tens of thousands of postal workers.
More than a year has passed since members of the American Postal Workers Union ratified a new contract that will run through 2015. But the Postal Service has yet to sew up agreements with its other three bargaining units.
Its last contract with the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, for example, expired in November 2010; after the two sides couldn’t reach a successor deal, arbitration hearings wound up in April. NRLCA members are now waiting to hear the outcome from the three-member panel headed by neutral arbitrator Jack Clarke.
Contracts with the mail handlers union and the National Association of Letter Carriers both played out last November. After a failed bid at mediation earlier this year, the NALC announced a few weeks ago that Shyam Das will chair the arbitration panel, with discussions under way to set a hearing schedule that could last several months. Last but not least, the mail handlers union announced last week that it’s also headed to arbitration after mediation also proved unsuccessful.
Both labor and management tend to be tight-lipped about the exact issues that lead to hangups in contract talks. There’s little doubt, however, that this round has been particularly arduous, as the Postal Service seeks to win cost-saving concessions. The terms of last year’s APWU contract, for example, were such that the union’s immediate past president, William Burrus, opposed ratification.
In a posting on its web site last week, the mail handlers union suggested that one factor in the failure of mediation in its case was Congress’ slowness in acting on legislation “to support the long-term financial well-being of the Postal Service as an ongoing institution and government agency.” In addition, “the status of the bargaining agreements for our three sister postal unions clearly could have an effect on what is already an exceedingly complicated process regarding the NPMHU-USPS contract dispute.”