Postal Service, unions extend negotiation deadline

Monday - 11/21/2011, 9:11am EST

By Michael O'Connell
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

Even though the deadlines for contracts expired at midnight on Sunday, Nov. 20, the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO (NALC) and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, AFL-CIO (NPMHU) and the Postal Service agreed to push the negotiation deadline back to midnight, Wednesday, Dec. 7, according to a Postal Service press release.

NALC represents more that 195,000 employees, primarily as letter carriers in urban areas, while the NPMHU speaks for more than 45,000 employees at post offices and mail processing plants. Wages and benefits for NALC- and NPMHU-represented employees, respectively, reached more than $15.7 billion and $3.5 billion last year. If negotiations fail, a new process would kick in that could lead to a third party defining contract terms and work rules for approximately 240,000 employees.

When negotiations reach an impasse in the private sector, employees can strike. This is not the case with postal employees. Since Congress has designated the Postal Service as an essential national service, employees are not allowed to strike. The final outcome is determined by an arbitrator, who is not legally obligated to take into account the Postal Service's financial situation when making a decision.

The Postal Service posted a net loss of $5.1 billion at the end of Fiscal Year 2011, which was less than the $8.5 billion net loss it posted the year before.The 2011 loss would have totaled approximately $10.6 million if legislation had not postponed a $5.5 billion payment mandated by Congress to pre-fund retiree health benefits.

The Postal Service must cut approximately $20 billion in costs by 2015 in order to become financially stable.

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