USPS, unions extend contract deadline again

Wednesday - 12/7/2011, 5:58pm EST

By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

The U.S. Postal Service and the two major Postal unions have agreed to extend the deadline for negotiating a new labor contract until Dec. 16.

It is now the second extension agreed to by USPS and the two unions — the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. The initial deadline for labor negotiations was Nov. 20, which had been extended until midnight Wednesday.

"All parties have now agreed to continue negotiations until midnight, Friday, Dec.16," a USPS release stated.

The Postal Service has faced dismal finances for years. Plagued by a precipitous drop-off in mail volume, USPS posted a net loss of $5.1 billion at the end of the last fiscal year.

The union negotiations come amid various plans to restructure the agency and shore up its finances. The agency has proposed ending Saturday delivery, cutting as many as 100,00 positions from its workforce and offering an alternative to the Federal Employees Health Benefit plan.

In a speech at a National Press Club luncheon last month, Postmaster General Pat Donahoe said the major issues in the ongoing contract negotiations are healthcare costs and labor flexibility.

Still, NALC President Fred Rolando told Federal News Radio last month he felt confident the agency and the unions could come to an agreement.

Unlike the private sector, Postal employees are not allowed to strike if negotiations come to an impasse because of the agency's "essential service to the nation." If the two parties are unable to come to an agreement, an arbitrator steps in to determine an outcome.

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