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Negotiations start for Postal Service and top unions

By Ed O'Keefe

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.

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

By Ed O'Keefe  | September 1, 2010; 2:32 PM ET
Categories:  Workplace Issues  
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The unions are going to bury the USPS just like they did the auto industry.

Posted by: tuzoner | September 1, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

i imagine they would have talks.

All the soldiers coming home and possibly adding to unemployment.

Believe it or not, soldiers usually go to work for the Postal Service. It's been that way for years.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | September 1, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

I can't imagine that the USPS workers have much leverage.

The losses are massive, their reputation is terrible for customer service, and I am sure that the Post Office managers figure that they could replace the current workers if they went on strike

Posted by: Bious | September 1, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

While I normally support reasonable union "demands", this is one union I can not support. Ronald Reagan did the country no favors when he fired the striking air controllers and gave in to the postal workers. The air controllers were highly trained, over worked, skilled professionals that took years to properly replace. Many of the postal workers could have been replaced by trained monkeys.
The union demand that full time retirees be replaced by full time is NOT is the best interests of the nation.
Salaries are high but benefits are the killer here. That and too many managers, although they may be needed to weather a strike.

Posted by: pjohn2 | September 1, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Golly, the Post Office was so important from the 1790s through the 1960s--before Fax, Telex, TWX (except in big business) and long before Internet. There was no useful alternative. It was the Age of Paper. How long has it been since you wrote a handwritten letter and sent through the U.S. mail? If you are old enough, the chances are it has been at least 30 years. If you were born later than 1965, you may not remember.

In recent years the Grand Champion of the Post Office has been Rep. Lynch of Massachusetts, many of whose close relatives work there. Rep. Lynch is determined to maintain Saturday service. In the heyday of the Post Office, urban areas had several weekday services, at least two Saturday services and Sunday service. Now, by Internet, we have every day, every minute service.

The Post Office has a few years to live until we federalize a minimum level of electronic communications and terminate it, leaving physical deliveries to private enterprise. The U.S. Post Office was a tremendous invention and an indispensible service for 200 years.

Posted by: AppDev | September 1, 2010 6:44 PM | Report abuse

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.

Of course, no union President is going to go into negotiations suggesting that his membership will bear any burden. But if labor makes up 74.8% of its costs, what else is going to pull it out of the red? Sorry Mr. Burrus.

Posted by: magellan1 | September 1, 2010 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Postal management wouldn't have got caught with their britches down around their necks if they'd undone Dick Strasser's decision to quit running the A/P (or monthly) RPW reports.

Sure, it wasn't perfect, and it always needed some adjustment up or down a mite as later periods suggested refinement BUT, you could do MEANINGFUL TREND LINES and know which way the mail volumes were turning.

These guys were into TWO FULL QUARTERS, or a half year, before they realized they were going bankrupt.

There's no excuse for that.

Bring back the RPW reports ~ that way you can see the relative rate of change within just 2 periods ~ or 1/6 of a year ~ and be in a position to save tens of thousands of jobs through appropriate rescheduling.

Good grief, even the old Work Hour Reports would have been useful in this case ~ you'd know by the end of a bi-weekly period if you were having a disaster.

Remember, all Dick Strasser saved were a handful of sheckels but what he gave up was your protection against catastrophic break down.

I never did like any of his decisions. You people should have learned now and ought to be turning the ship around to go in a different direction.

Posted by: muawiyah | September 1, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

The unions are going to bury the USPS just like they did the auto industry.

Posted by: tuzoner | September 1, 2010 3:33 PM


A couple of questions. Answer either Union or Management.

1. Who decided to make terrible quality cars in the 70s, 80s, 90s? You know, the ones that leaked oil on your driveway they day you drove it home?

2. Who approved and signed the contracts providing those expensive benefits to the union employees?

3. Who decided to ignore the challenge from the high gas mileage cars coming from Japan in favor of huge gas guzzline pickups, V-8s, and SUVs?

4. Who decided to spend billions retooling to give us a newly redesigned model each year and billions more in advertising telling us we had to buy it?

5. Who outsourced their production to Mexico and other third world countries?

Do you need a hint?

Posted by: GeneM | September 1, 2010 8:42 PM | Report abuse

When nobody has a job, we can all sit around the campfire, eat bugs, and tell scary stories.

The market's up today? Burp!

Posted by: veerle1 | September 1, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

The bigget DRAIN on our US Postal System comes from the low postage rates for too many full page ads that clog our mail boxes. I receive no less than 10 to 12 each Monday. What do I do with them? I toss them in my recycle garbage. Do I read them? NO! It takes more time for our well-paid postal employees to sort through all this garbage than it does to sort through first class mail. Solution: Charge more for distribution of the 'mail box cloggers.'

Posted by: rbsher | September 1, 2010 10:14 PM | Report abuse

if senator free market demint did not force the usps to subsidize the junk mailers with first class revenues then this would not be so severe a problem. i was surprise when my veteran carrier told me on days above 90(typical in sc during summer months) he received double time because of more than 20 years seniority. everyone else got time and a half. i wish i had been paid a temperature differential when i was in khe sanh with the corps or that my son had received it while serving in desert storm (remember that one, it was actually justifiable and led by combat veterans, not country club pilots and draft dodgers like cheney, wolfie, etc.)

Posted by: george32 | September 1, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse

Did the Postal Unions decide to spend Billions on automated flat and letter sorting machines as long as football fields in order to sort mail and flats that are NOT THERE???? Jackie Potter lied in front of Congress (or willfully misled) when he stated the USPS would loose $238 Billion in the next Ten Years. Upon further questioning, Potter claimed he was using a worst case scenario! These guys are sucking the life out of the Service, while providing cushy jobs for their incompetent buddies. Scandal after management scandal, wasteful spending, dumb directives. Vice Presidents of Sustainability. WHAT! Postal managers negotiate sweetheart deals with various outside contractors and then retire and show up on their payrolls! UPS overcharges the USPS for shipping air freight on their planes, while the Postal Services undercharges UPS for delivering "The Last Mile" The only place that needs to be CLEANED OUT is L'Enfant Plaza!! The management/hourly employee ratio is ridiculously high,clerks are not plentiful enough to get the mail distributed on time, carriers are waiting in line for accountable mail. The phones ring off the hook (pissing off customers) Do you really think this Circus atmosphere is the creation of Greedy Unions?? The Postal Service identifies 4000 money losing Offices, but they're still open after a couple of years of study. Incompetent Management by an Incompetent Postmaster General is the major cause of the current state of affairs. Massive discounts to bulk mailers is driving costs higher, while they claim the volume has dropped! Recent press releases state otherwise. These large mailers negotiate a price and then load up the Red Plum Jacket with mail that was formerly sent by the individual advertisers. Valassis is basically running a game on the USPS and Postal Management hasn't figured it out yet! Presorted mail is given huge discounts and then ends up in the sorting machinery anyway!! Let's see, give the mailer a discount for presorting, and then run the presorted mail through the high speed sorting machines. What company can survive doing twice the work after giving a discount! Presorted discounts for Political Mail that is sorted backwards is another Postal Management Blunder! I could go on and on, but I'm running out of characters in this comment section!! Just keep blaming Unions and hourly employees and ignore the real problems and the USPS will probably limp across the finish line one of these days and then collapse from its overweight management.

Posted by: bozoshoes | September 2, 2010 9:32 PM | Report abuse

to the person in SC whose lettercarrier
told him he gets extra pay when the temperature goes over 90- I have a bridge for sale,want to buy it?
In the postal service there are two ways to get into management-1) be related to someone already in management. 2) be dating someone who is already in management
If you could see a list of postal management you would see the same last names over and over- there are actually entire generations of families that have been entrenched in management going back to the sixties. There used to be a test you had to take to get into management, but the relatives and cronies couldn't pass it ( you had to have a basic knowledge of how the postal service worked) so they just got rid of the test
You can tell the new hires who are going into management- they kind of wander around the post offices for a few months, don't do much work, rarely even handle any mail of any kind and the next thing you know, they come to work in a dress shirt and tie knowing everything about delivering mail
And by the way our salaries don't go very far here on the east coast and most carriers have to work a second job,our benifits aren't that great and our retirement plan just plain sucks

Posted by: syosset57 | September 2, 2010 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Well, I guess the unions will be the main cause of the United States becoming a socialist nation because it is all about union members and especially the leadership and their crying, me me me. I never hear any of them say what is good for the whole of the job. What should happen is every job that is unionized should fold and then see how much the millionaire union leaders care about them. I liken unions to senators & congressmen who will do anything for their individual state and give a dam as to the cost to the whole of the United States, which if we have no United States or job because one state or union only wants for itself at the cost of the whole; well you know what would be left.

Ralph from Fredericksburg, VA

Posted by: cajunboy56 | September 4, 2010 9:50 PM | Report abuse

After hearing about the UPS Standards for example that a UPS driver, after stopping his / her vehicle had to be out of it with the delivery package in hand in 17 seconds (not minutes), I watched our U (Useless) S (Stupid) Post Office worker after chatting with a neighbor for 7 minutes drive and stop at my house. She took 12.5 minutes to get her fat ass out of the vehicle to deliver the mail. That is a little more than 17 seconds. Fedex is faster than UPS.

Houston. The PO has a problem and that is hundreds of thousands of unemployed lazy people on the Government Dole that gov bureaucrats call payroll.

Also, the USPS has abandoned a building that I am aware of and has paid rent for 3-4 years and has several years to go. The owner has offered to let the USPS out of the lease and that could save the taxpayers and rate payers money. Guess what the response of the incompetent USPS was. No, we will continue paying rent for the building we have no use for and are not using for the balance of the lease.

Is there any question why we have problem?? Jus wait till we get the tens of thousands working on health care.

With the current Admin and Congress we will soon be a Developing Nation. Fortunately i am in a position to leave.

Posted by: BWF1 | September 5, 2010 7:54 PM | Report abuse

@ BWF1... Adios!

@ cajunboy56... Wrong. Mgmt is the USPS problem. Just like every federal govt agency. It is full of cronyism, nepotism, favortism and every tism you can think of... but officials turn a blind eye. Many that screw up get promoted. Mgmt have different awards and bonus structure. Until the Obama Admin, working with Congress and a few of the enforcement agencies GET ON the ball with real oversight, investigation and TRUE punishment... this will continue. The revolving doors within DoD is another major problem... STOP these greedy so-called upper mgmt... start downsizing mgmt. I work at a Navy base outside the beltway. Each department within the activity have about 4 or 5 different level 1 or 2 mgmt above them... each with a different mission. And you wonder why DoD have a 500 billion annual budget?

Posted by: darbyohara | September 7, 2010 7:26 AM | Report abuse

It's amazing how little some folks know about the workings of the USPS, yet they have an opinion anyway.

Labor is over 75% of the costs because it is a SERVICE. There is no product nor inventory nor raw materials, just the moving of paper supplied by customers from one place to another.

The USPS is driven by MAILERS, not recipients, so shut up if you are not spending the money to keep it open. USPS gets nothing from Congress. Congress doesn't even pay for the free matter for the blind anymore, yet the privilege still exists. These people are not poor, just blind. Of course Congress does not want to give up its free franking privilege either, those envelopes with your elected officials name in the right hand corner. FREE!!

Just get Congress out of the way of abolishing 6 day delivery and keeping open offices for constituents who make lots of noise. Let the USPS continue to give huge discounts to major mailers exceeding the costs avoided. Let the USPS continue to use faulty cost analysis to contract out operations and transportation.

Even with not having to pay local property taxes, state license plates for their vehicles, income taxes to the federal government, USPS managers can't run a business and always blame labor. Unshackle the current managers from Congress and let them manage the USPS into oblivion. Americans need pay what the rest of the industrial world pays for postage, about twice what we pay now.

One last thought. The USPS came into being under Nixon from the Post Office Department (a cabinet level position), Reagan did away with Civil Service Retirement System, and GW Bush signed the 2006 act from Congress that saddled the USPS with prefunding it's retirees healthcare costs to the tune of $5 billion a year. Just a coincidence all this Republican meddling in a SERVICE finally killed it?

Posted by: shmutz | September 8, 2010 12:59 AM | Report abuse

Im tired of people who have never worked for the p.o. giving opinions on something they know nothing about! First of all, the p.o. does NOT get any tax money. Second we CANNOT go on strike by law. Third they are losing money because they allow companies with mass mailings, extreme discounts. I've seen letters as low as 8cents each!!! They need to stop giving such extreme discounts. The managers are beginning to outnumber the employees. The supervisors in my department make 70,000 yearly. For what? There are 5 of them supervising about 60 employees. They stand around most of the day and "chat". It's the employees that are keeping the p.o. above water NOT the supervisors and managers. We work hard for our pay. For those that suggest that we all go to part time work, how would you like it if all the jobs in your company were suddenly all reduced to part time positions? Maybe then you could look for a job at the p.o.? Oh and for those of you who compare the p.o. to UPS and FEDEX and others remember they don't deliver letters to EVERY household in the country. Oh and by the way UPS and FEDEX send letters through the U.S. Postal Service! I guess they shopped around and found the best deal!

Posted by: fedup100 | September 8, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

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