American postal union begins contract talks with US Postal Service
The American Postal Workers Union has begun contract negotiations with the US Postal Service for the first time in four and a half years.
Talks over a new collective bargaining agreement started on Thursday in Washington DC, with the union stating the need for the Postal Service to expand into postal banking and other new services, while looking for new ways to improve customer convenience — particularly in the field of e-commerce delivery.
At the same time, the union representing 200,000 workers said it is looking to prevent further downsizing at the Postal Service as it looks to combat its multi-billion dollar debt and liquidity crisis.
Mark Dimondstein, the APWU president, said: “The Postal Service must take advantage of the explosion in ecommerce to modernize and better serve the people. That is what we are advocating. That is what we need. We don’t need the slash and burn, shrink and outsource schemes of recent years.”
In her opening comments, Megan Brennan, the US Postmaster General, acknowledged the economic sacrifices made by employees in the past two years, and applauded the commitment of the work force to the future of the organisation.
But she warned there was “much work to do” in the latest round of contract talks.
“We still face serious financial challenges and the ongoing erosion of First-Class Mail volume,” said Brennan, who took over as Postmaster General at the start of this month. “We are also adjusting to the highly competitive market for delivery services––which will require new levels of flexibility as we strive to capture more and more of this growing sector, and the dynamic nature of the retail environment. Customers are continually demanding flexibility in where and how they do business with us.”
As the contract talks were launched at an open meeting, the APWU was joined by Frederic Rolando, president of the letter carriers’ union, as well as Richard Trumka, the president of national unions’ federation AFL-CIO, and actor and activist Danny Glover.
The “Grand Alliance” aimed to emphasize efforts to “strengthen a great national treasure” by preventing service and staff cutbacks at USPS.
“We also approach these negotiations as an opportunity to promote a vision of a vibrant Postal Service for generations to come,” Dimondstein said among his opening remarks. “We will be putting forth proposals for maintaining overnight delivery standards, halting plant closings, expanding hours of service and staffing for the customers, and providing financial services such as postal banking.”
The union talks come as the Postal Service works to close 82 more of its mail processing plants to cut operating costs.
Brennan said the Postal Service could not assume its financial problems would go away even if Congress does manage to pass postal reforms. But she said USPS would be investing in training and development of employees as well as in technology and infrastructure to compete in an evolving marketplace.
“Investing in our future means shaping our future, and that is what these negotiations will help accomplish,” said Brennan, who was chief operating officer prior to her step up to the top job in USPS.
The last APWU contract, covering 2010 to 2015, was agreed back in March 2011, providing a 3.5% pay rise over the course of the agreement along with pledges to avoid laying off workers.
The union states that it represents more than 200,000 Postal Service employees and retirees, with members tending to be in clerk, maintenance, vehicle or support services divisions.
The Postal Service has seen the number of its full-time employees drop from 704,716 to 486,822 in the last decade, mainly through attrition. Mail volume has fallen from 211.7bn pieces per year to 155.4bn over the same period.
(Amended 24/2/15 to add comments from the Postmaster General)