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Posted at 11:20 AM ET, 11/21/2010

Postal Service fails to reach agreements with unions

By Ed O'Keefe

The U.S. Postal Service failed to reach new agreements with two of its largest labor unions Saturday, agreeing to continue negotiations with one while reaching an impasse with the other.

The Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union agreed to keep talking until noon Tuesday. But talks with the National Rural Letter Carriers Association ended in an impasse Saturday afternoon, the union said.

"Should APWU negotiations fail as they have with the NRLCA, a process begins which could result in a third party determining contract terms and work rules for more than 324,000 employees whose wages and benefits exceeded $20 billion last year," the Postal Service said in a statement e-mailed early Sunday.

"There is still potential to negotiate an agreement," APWU President Cliff Guffey said Sunday. The union represents 220,000 postal clerks, mechanics, drivers, custodians and some administrative workers.

"Throughout the collective bargaining process, the APWU has sought to protect our members' jobs and to strengthen the Postal Service. Every proposal we have made to preserve jobs for our members will also benefit the USPS, because APWU members can perform the work more efficiently and less expensively than subcontractors," Guffey said.

NRLCA represents more than 100,000 rural letter carriers. In a statement, the union said the Postal Service had proposed "wage freezes and significant benefit cuts for current career employees, including the abolishment of cost-of-living adjustments and a new salary schedule with a lower wage scale for new hires." The Postal Service also sought to eliminate a no-layoff clause for all but the most senior NRLCA workers, the union said.

The Postal Service did not respond to requests for further comment. Postal negotiators said in September that they would seek concessions from the union on wages, health benefits and working conditions as it tried to pare down full-time workforce and expand the use of part-timers. With mail volume continuing to drop from its highs in 2006, the Postal Service can no longer guarantee eight-hour shifts for clerks, mail handlers and other workers, it said when negotiations began.

By law postal workers are not permitted to strike and workers represented by the two unions will continue working under their old agreements until new deals are struck.

The stalled negotiations come at a critical time for the Postal Service, which lost $8.5 billion during the fiscal year that ended in September. Postmaster General John E. Potter is set to step down next week, leading some union leaders to worry privately about the future of labor negotiations.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | November 21, 2010; 11:20 AM ET
Categories:  Postal Service  
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Two words for the Union Chiefs to consider as they fight to keep whatever they have regardless of USPS (or postal patron's) ability to afford to pay it or live under those work rules or the services they would support in a competitive environment where alternatives and options abound....
This logjam reminds me of a similarly stubborn set of union leaders vs a severely weakened industry. The outcome did not take long to materialize...
which failed in 1991 after a long and proud history and service and route innovations that positioned them for a better future.

Posted by: dbsinOakRidge | November 21, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

The postal unions' leaders are doing what they undoubtedly see as what they must do if they are to retain their positions. However, being intelligent men, they must surely understand that, beneath the florid oratory, theirs is at best a short term strategy which cannot succeed in the face of the inexorable, continuing - and indeed accelerating - drain in "snail mail" volume. The key questions are how difficult the inevitable transition to a much smaller and more cost efficient postal workforce will be, and whether it will occur in time to save the USPS from winding up in the "dustbin of history." The overworked metaphor about "offing" the goose producing auriferous eggs may actually be more apt than not in this scenario. The postal unions' leaders have few if any viable options to change or obstruct significantly what is happening on a macro level in our society, but, if they have the wisdom to do so, they can help bring about the inevitable transition in ways that will at least moderate in the long run the pain being faced by their members. This may seem a modest goal at best, but it's the only one that offers any hope as to the survivability of the USPS.

Posted by: msgrowan | November 21, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

Will anyone notice if the postal service stops delivering the mail. Each week, I take the mail and drop it directly into my recycling bin representing about 50% of my recycled materials. In the last three weeks, I've opened ONE envelope.

Posted by: logan303 | November 21, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

When you lose nearly $9 Billion, unions should not expect much of anything.

Posted by: Bious | November 21, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Unions are the center of most of the problems America is facing. With Obama's pandering of unions we are headed very fast toward becoming like France where unions can bring a country to a stop at the call of a union boss.
The American people should take the opportunity of taking our country back to start disengauging unions from any and all government paid; supported; sponsored positions. The costs of unions are breaking the financial ability of America to sustain itself. Their wages are the highest of any group; their working hours are the lest of any group; their corruption is the worse of the worse; their management of union trust funds absolute corruption and workers are paying through the nose to support the union bosses in keeping them in a mannor they are use to. Get unions out of government.

Posted by: lhudson828 | November 21, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, unions are totally the problem. We need more workers who will work for $11 per hour with no benefits.

Corporate greed and thievery are a birthright.

Funny, I didn't hear about how bad the unions were during boom times. You know. When everybody was getting bonuses, taking vacations to the South Pacific, and cashing in tech stocks to flip houses.

Smartest guys in the room, my arse. The USPS has enough money to give PMG Potter a retroactive 39% pay increase, bonuses double the salary of US President in losing years, hire back retired execs as consultants for double pay to train replacements, purchase thousands of exec houses for relocations and takes losses in the millions on them, spend billions on technology (FSS) designed to save millions per year.

The losses are due to pre-funding requirements for health benefits for future retirees. The USPS is NOT negotiating in good faith. PMG cried how private sector makes more than him. We'll see how successful Jack Potter is in the private sector next month. My guess: not very.

Facts are USPS made $9.5 Billion from 2003-2006. Last time I checked, there was an internet then, they had unions, and yet somehow were profitable. What has changed? I will tell you. The PAEA Act of 2006. Read up people. It is amazing how incredibly brilliant you all are on postal matters, because are a customer? I flew last year. Should airlines consult me for business ideas?

If not for the law change and burden placed on the USPS, they would have made money in 2007 and 2008. They would have lost some in 2010, but much less than $8.5 Billion, meaning the 2003-2010 period would have been profitable instead of break even as it is now.

Declining mail. Wow. That is news. Good thing we started to reduce the employment totals.......10 years ago. I am sure we will survive email. We survived carrier pigeon, telegraph, fax machines, and yes even email has jumped the shark. Ask you teen how many emails they sent last week.

We had 820,000 employees 10 years ago, and now have around 578,000. I predict by 2020, the USPS will have 430,000 employees. Pretty sure you can't call the predicted mail volume of 150 Billion pieces in 2020 something to sneeze at.

Shall I start about how our CSRS pensions are overfunded by $75 Billion, and the FERS pension are also overfunded? Or that internet CREATES business for the USPS? Or that record amounts were spent on campaign mailers last month, begging the question, why didn't the candidates just email you?

Have a nice Thanksgiving. Enjoy you month of December off. Not like you get much done anyway. It must be frustrating for you people that spent over $100,000 on your brain, and this is all you got for it. Remember, unions are the enemy. Thank God the thieves (you might be one) could gamble, lose get bailed out, and back right were you were before you screwed up the country three years ago. If you are finding hard to work at Starbucks for tips with your Masters, too bad.

Posted by: kennylabbe | November 21, 2010 11:19 PM | Report abuse

Bravo, kennylabbe!

It is often overlooked in commentary on Postal woes (this Washington Post columnist an exception) that PAEA 2006 irksome burdens UNIQUE to the USPS are apparently a means of drawing to a close any possible objections to privatization of the USPS.

Now the incoming Republican heads of crucial congressional committees commenting on these efforts to right the overpayments outlined by the USPS OIG (and independent audits covering the same ground with slightly different numbers) in the link above are making noises that it is not prudent to settle these issues fairly as this would adversely affect the pressure on postal unions to make consessions. Given this round of American saviors, it must be apparent that the fix is in (for a while, at least).

As previously mentioned, the USPS has, for the last decade, made great efforts to right its workload and personnel complement (less so the concentration on managerial adjustments) under the triple burden of technology, recession and egregious federal mandates no other private or governmental entity labors under. The USPS will undergo even more of these significant adjustments in tailoring their resources to the job at hand. No matter which faction wins, the USPS will not be the same organization in 10 years, five years, that it has been in the past.

Grinding the USPS for grist by "interested parties" with their own agenda will not materially enhance these natural progressions during times of increasing uncertainty and angst. Given the incedible statistics of wealth distribution in the USA of the last several decades, attacks on the USPS and its workers will dovetail neatly into more of the same. We might all be careful as to where we tread and focus on issues important to the continued competitiveness of the culture and economy of America such as education, job retention/economic reorganization (e.g., Green technology, innovation , and inducements), attending to the imbalance of public and private debt and position in the changing landscape of players for dominant leadership in the 21st century.

Posted by: kellycpp | November 22, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

If Mr. John Potter did not sleep on the job and let Congress screwed the USPS since 2006 for 5.5 Billions dollars each year for the last 4 years. We would not have this discussion now. Still , Mr. Potter jumped off the sinking ship with all the perks ,bells and whistle of retirement packages all you could think of. He left 578,000 employees in 8.5 billions in the hole. That's typical American CEO when time is tough, he/she bailed himself/ herself out. I bet he will come back screw USPS one more time if he sign on as a consultant of some lobby group which hates the way USPS doing business. I hope this time US Congress does the right thing this time and give back the refund that owed to USPS.

Posted by: dhoanguyen | November 22, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

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