US postal groups disappointed as USPS seeks cuts in labour costs

Mail processing staff in the United States are unhappy with proposals by the US Postal Service to scrap lay-off protections, reform overtime rules and allow an increased use of part-time workers. The proposals came as talks with the National Postal Mailhandlers Union (NPMHU), along with the National Association of Letter Carriers, entered a “critical” stage ahead of the end of current labour agreements on November 20.

The struggling US Postal Service is looking for ways to cut its labour costs, which represent around 80% of its operating expenses, as it seeks to restore financial sustainability after recording a $10bn loss in the fiscal year up to the end of September.

Also this week, two key industry associations for US postmasters expressed disappointment as final pay packages were decided by USPS after four months of negotiations, with pay for performance bonuses suspended until at least 2013, and potentially further.

Mail handlers

The National Postal Mailhandlers Union, which represents 47,000 mail processing staff at USPS, described proposals for a new collective bargaining proposal as “harsh”.

Negotiations have been underway with USPS since August, but as with letter carriers’ union NALC, if the two sides do not believe settlement can be reached after the next two weeks of talks, the process will enter mediation or arbitration. Federal workers cannot strike in the US, however.

The NPMHU yesterday described the latest USPS proposals as a “starting point”, and expressed hope that negotiations could reach compromises beyond the current “extreme” proposals.

In particular, the union is objecting to proposals to eliminate protection against job losses for its members, along with an increase in use of part-time workers to 40% of the mail processing work force.

The union is also opposed to increased flexibility on overtime – paying overtime only after 40 hours’ work has been exceeded in a week, rather than after eight hours’ work has been completed in a day.

“It goes without saying that these USPS proposals are totally unacceptable,” said the union in a statement yesterday.

“The NPMHU does not believe that these proposals say anything meaningful – one way or the other – about the chances or likelihood that the parties will be able to reach a negotiated settlement prior to, or even after, the current bargaining deadline of November 20.”

Postmasters

Meanwhile, US postmasters have been given a new pay package in which pay for performance bonuses will not be paid for the fiscal year just past and the 12 months up to September 2012. Payments may be made from 2013 to 2015 only if USPS is out of its financial crisis.

Basic salaries will increased by 6.5% between January 2013 and January 2016.

In a joint statement from the National League of Postmasters president Mark Strong and National Association of Postmasters of the United States president Bob Rapoza, the representatives expressed disappointment that many of their proposals were not included in the pay packages.

“This financial crisis we are in is through no fault of the more than 26,000 postmasters who work extremely hard to manage the Postal Service’s most critical operations and provide universal service to the American public,” said Rapoza and Strong.

However, the postmasters’ representatives noted: “It is not just postmasters that will have to manage without a pay raise in 2011 and 2012. The entire federal work force is in the same boat and there are a lot of people around the country who’ve lost their jobs, and others who have seen a decline in wages.”

Closure moratorium

One positive for postmasters and delivery unit staff is a temporary suspension on post office and delivery unit facility closures enacted by USPS executives to run from November 19 until January 2, 2012.

The moratorium on closures, confirmed to USPS area vice presidents, seeks to minimise network disruptions at a time when mail volumes are set to surge.

Community meetings and review proceedings for potential closures can continue under the moratorium, but the actual process of closing facilities will cease until the New Year.

This week saw the US Senate adding a provision to a bipartisan rescue package for USPS that, if passed by Congress, would require post office closures to cease until a set of official retail service standards are agreed.

About The Author

Ian Taylor

Ian Taylor is the Editor of Triangle’s Mail & Express Review Magazine and the www.postandparcel.info portal. Ian has been a business journalist for almost 30 years, editing and writing for a wide range of magazines and newspapers with a particular focus on the transport and logistics industries.

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