Negotiators for the U.S. Postal Service and two of its labor unions will continue talking for two and half more weeks after current labor contracts expired at midnight Sunday.
Officials with USPS, the National Association of Letter Carriers, which represents nearly 300,000 active-duty and retired city letter carriers, and the National Postal Mailhandlers Union, which represents about 47,000 postal employees, confirmed late Sunday that the talks are ongoing.
“We have been working in good faith to hammer out a new contract and we hope that this extension will lead to an agreement that our members can enthusiastically ratify,” NALC President Fredric V. Rolando said in a statement to members.
In a similar message, NPMHU President John Hegarty said his team “will continue our quest not only to preserve and improve the important work rules that govern our day-to-day operations, but also to retain a fair compensation package going forward.”
The Postal Service confirmed in a statement that talks are ongoing, but declined to comment further; as a policy, USPS doesn’t comment on the specifics of ongoing negotiations.
Wages and benefits for NALC and NPMHU-represented workers topped $15.7 billion and $3.5 billion last year, according to the Postal Service. Failure to reach agreements would force a third-party arbitrators to review the terms of the deal and reach a settlement for the workers, USPS said late Sunday.
The talks come amid incredible uncertainty for the Postal Service: It announced last week that it lost $5.1 billion in fiscal 2011 and is pressing Congress to help cut $20 billion in operational costs in the next five years. Much of the savings would come from concessions allowing USPS to shave at least 120,000 positions through a mix of layoffs and attrition. Legislative proposals have been approved by congressional committees, but congressional aides have said that final votes depend largely on whether the fiscal supercommittee reaches a deal that includes postal reforms.
USPS angered postal union leaders last summer when it unveiled legislative proposals that would permit it to break union agreements and cut its workforce by 20 percent.
At the time, Rolando said “The Congress of the United States does not engage in contract negotiations with unions, and we do not believe they are about to do so.”
The current short-term spending measure passed last week gives USPS until early December to pay about $5.4 billion in costs to prefund further worker retirements. Despite the extensions, postal officials said last week that they still cannot afford to make the payments, and are hopeful lawmakers will restructure the payments in order to continue prefunding obligations at a lower price.
USPS and the American Postal Workers Union reached a new four-year agreement over the summer, but talks with the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association remain at an impasse.
Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost
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