USPS signs contract with American Postal Workers Union

US Postmaster General Pat Donahoe signed a new contract with the American Postal Workers Union yesterday, putting an official end to a collective bargaining process that has taken nearly nine months. The new union contract with the US Postal Service runs until May 20, 2015.

It includes a two-year wage freeze, with an overall rise in salaries of 3.5% over the full four years. Cost of living adjustments will also wait until the third year of the contract.

It also puts starting employees on new pay grades 10.2% lower than previously, and gives the USPS increased flexibility to make use of part time and temporary workers, as well as using full-time workers in more flexible shift patterns.

Overall, the Postal Service believes the deal will save $3.8bn from its staff costs through the life of the contract.

From the union’s perspective, the deal offers job security for members, returns outsourced work to union members and limits long-distance reassignments.

Donahoe said the deal showed the “commitment” of the APWU to its membership and to preserving the Postal Service during its financial troubles.

“We worked together to negotiate a responsible agreement that is in the best interest of our customers, our employees and the future of the Postal Service,” said the Postmaster General.

He said of the deal: “It offers short-term cost relief, structural changes to future labour costs and enhanced workforce flexibility to adjust to America’s changing mailing trends.”

The Postal Service has nearly 205,000 employees represented by the APWU – generally clerks, mechanics, vehicle drivers, custodians and some administrative staff.

The union’s membership ratified the new collective bargaining agreement earlier this month by a vote of 69,451 to 22,351.

“Throughout the bargaining process, the union sought to negotiate a contract that would protect jobs and strengthen the USPS so that we can better serve the American people,” said APWU president Cliff Guffey.

“The new contract accomplishes those goals,” he added, “and it shows that public-employee unions and their employers can make collective bargaining work — even when faced with a financial crisis.”

Union negotiations

Negotiations with the APWU began last September along with the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, although discussions with the rural carriers ground to a halt in November.

The Postal Service said last night that negotiations with the NRLCA continue, but that if a new deal is not reached an arbitrator would determine the outcome.

Later this year, USPS will begin negotiations with two other unions regarding their next collective bargaining agreements – the National Association of Letter Carriers, representing 203,000 urban and suburban mail carriers, and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, representing 48,000 mail processing staff members. Those unions have current contracts that run out November 20, 2011.

Unlike the situation north of the border in Canada, where Canada Post is facing the prospect of strikes at the moment in its negotiations with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, in the US federal workers are not permitted to strike, including US Postal Service employees.

Labour costs represent about 79% of the US Postal Service operating costs. With the USPS expected to make a loss of at least $6.4bn this year following last year’s $8.5bn loss, the Postal Service is expected to propose similar cost-cutting measures from the APWU deal in its wage deals for the other unions.

The APWU president said his union would now prioritise action to persuade US lawmakers to make changes to help with the financial situation at the Postal Service, including support for Congressman Stephen Lynch’s bill requiring a rebate for the USPS from its pension fund overpayments.

“Now it is time for the members of Congress to do their part and correct the funding inequities that are driving the Postal Service toward insolvency,” Guffey said. “I encourage every APWU member to contact their senators and representative and ask them to take action now.”

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