Negotiations start for Postal Service and top unions
By Ed O'Keefe and Lisa Rein
The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service heads to the bargaining table this afternoon with its largest labor union as both sides anticipate a difficult round of negotiations that could last up to a year.
USPS, facing $7 billion in losses at the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, starts meeting today with the American Postal Workers Union, representing about 211,000 mail clerks, maintenance workers, custodians, supervisors and vehicle drivers, appears ready to hold its ground. Negotiations with the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, which represents 207,000 letter carriers, start next week. The four-year contracts with both unions are set to expire Nov. 20. Two other contracts, with the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, end next year.
Tony Vegliante, chief human resources officer for USPS, said the agency is seeking much more flexibility in its labor contracts as it grapples with a difficult financial situation.
Consider the numbers:
-- Mail volume has dropped from 213 billion pieces of mail delivered annually in 2006 to 177 billion pieces last year and an anticipated 150 billion pieces delivered in 2020.
-- The Postal Service is an incredibly labor-intensive organization, with wages and benefits accounting for 78.4 percent of the agency's total costs.
-- An aging workforce could mean that as many as 300,000 workers will leave the Postal Service in the next decade. Many positions will end through attrition, but others will be filled again, Vegliante said.
“We’re still going to be a big organization and we’re going to have responsibilities to our customers and the American public, but it also means we have to change the way we do business," he said. "We don’t have a continually growing environment, we have a shrinking environment, so we have to be much more conscious about how we manage the mail volume as it changes over time, and we need to be flexible.”
APWU President William Burrus said he "recognizes the challenges facing the Postal Service." But the agency cannot depend on labor to pull it out of the red.
"We do not view them, by themselves, as determining the future of the Postal Service," he said. "We have no intent of forcing our members to begin their lives all over again. We see no justification for unraveling agreements made over 40 years."
Burrus said he would look skeptically on any proposal to dramatically increase part-time work.
"Where there is full-time work available we expect it to be filled by full-time employees. ... We believe there is plenty of full-time work available."
Indeed, Vegliante anticipated that current full-time workers would keep their status, but hoped USPS could hire more part-time, seasonal workers in the future.
"But if any current [full-timers] want to volunteer to work part-time, I'm not opposed to that," he joked.
Check back later for updates.
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| September 1, 2010; 2:32 PM ET
Categories: Workplace Issues
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