The US Postal Service and two unions have extended talks over new collective bargaining agreements, after yesterday saw the passing of their current labour contracts.
The USPS, National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPMHU) have extended their negotiations deadline until Midnight on Wednesday, December 7.
If agreement is not reached through negotiations, the process will go to arbitration.
The two unions, who represent respectively 195,000 urban-based mail carriers and 45,000 mail processing staff, have been in talks with USPS since August over a new labour deal.
The current negotiations have the background of the $10bn annual losses currently being made by USPS, with the Postal Service seeking major shifts in its labour contracts since its staff costs amount to 80% of operating expenses. Last year saw NALC members paid $15.7bn between them by the Postal Service, while NPMHU members took home $3.5bn.
As well as looking to end lay-off protections, the Postal Service is now looking for an increased use of part-time, flexible labour to help reduce costs in the light of declining mail volumes.
In a briefing note issued today, USPS said it was currently “overstaffed” despite cutting its workforce by 110,000 in the last four fiscal years. US mail volumes have dropped 20% in the last five years. The Postal Service is looking to cut $20bn in annual costs by 2015 in order to return to fiscal stability.
“Some of these cost savings can be achieved by adjusting the size of its workforce and infrastructure to align with America’s changing mailing trends,” said USPS.
NALC president Frederic Rolando said: “We have been working in good faith to hammer out a new contract and we hope that this extension will lead to an agreement that our members can enthusiastically ratify.”
“We remain committed to negotiating a fair contract that will advance the best interests of the nation’s city letter carriers,” Rolando added.
USPS said if talks ultimately fail with the unions, the process would see an independent arbitrator determining contract terms and work rules for the 240,000 postal workers concerned. USPS workers are not allowed to strike under US law, since the Postal Service is designated as an “essential” service by Congress.
The Postal Service signed a new collective agreement with the American Postal Workers Union back in May, which added new levels of flexibility to work arrangements for clerks, mechanics and drivers. However, USPS is currently asking Congress for help in breaking the lay-off protections promised in that particular deal, a move that has angered all the postal unions in America.
Talks with the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association over its next labour deal broke down a year ago yesterday, but the situation has still not been resolved by arbitration. USPS said today that 65,000 career rural letter carriers and 42,000 non-career rural letter carriers represented by the union are continuing on the terms of the last labour contract until a new deal is finalised.