What do Chief Justice Warren Berger, Smokey the Bear and the average postal worker have in common?

Each works for the government.

Each is expected to wear a "uniform" on the job.

Each enjoys something that average American does not, namely steady work and a guaranteed job for life.

The Supreme Court's tenure was dictated by the Founding Fathers. They reasoned that lifetime appointments were necessary to keep the judiciary independent. Smokey has a lock on his position in the zoo because the nation's children demand a resident Smokey the Bear there, and because he was found abandoned in a forest about the time his predecessor was to retire.

The nation's half-million postal workers won limited job guarantees several years ago in a negotiated contract with the U.S. Postal Service. Labor leaders in government and the private sector were astounded that the unions got pay raises plus guarantees of jobs for members during the life of their contract. The USPS has been kicking itself ever since for agreeing to the no-layoff clause. It has been raising stamp rates rather than firing surplus employes because of the promise.

Last month rank-and-file members rejected a contract agreed to between their leaders and the U.S. Postal Service, because they didn't like the maximum 19.5 percent raise it promised over three years. They sent negotiations back to the tables, telling them to win more money, but of course, not give up the no-layoff clause.

Everybody knew the bargaining wouldn't result in a settlement. So they waited to see what mediator-arbitrator James Healy would do when he wrote a new contract. They expected the unions to do a little better in money, but assumed that Healy would eliminate or modify the no-layoff cause.

Healy yesterday announced the new contract. Labor leaders outside of the Postal Service are still gasping. U.S. Postal Service officials reportedly are on the verge of a nervous breakdown, despite tight little smiles they managed when talking the new contract over with the press.

The unions were awarded a combination pay and unlimited cost-of-living raise that is estimated to be worth 21.3 percent (based on current inflation rates) over the next three years. It would be more than that since Healy removed the "cap" on cost-of-living raises proposed by the earlier contract.

But the big news is what Healy didn't do to the lifetime job protection language. Instead of watering it down, he strengthened it for workers already in the postal service.Rather than have job protection from contract-to-contract, as at present, Healy awarded them protection against layoffs during their "work lifetime". They can, of course, still be fired for incompetence. Or murder while on duty. But they cannot be laid off because of automation - something that is coming fast in the postal service. New workers, Healy said, those hired after the contract is agreed to, will have to serve six years before they get lifetime job guarantees. Most American work a lifetime and never get lifetime job protection.

The new contract would mean the average postal worker would earn at least $19,499 within the next three years, That salary goes higher if the cost of living goes up.

Although unions agreed to accept Healy's decision if they and the Postal Service couldn't reach agreement on their own, there is still talk of rejection, and maybe, a strike.

The question the public might ask is strike for what? Granted there are better jobs than in the postal service - better paying and more fun. There are also a lot worse jobs, paying less and offering less fun. there are also no jobs at all.

People might begin to wonder if the postal union s want more money (who doesn't), or if they want the lifetime job guarnatee improved. How do you do that without getting involved in reincarnation? It's one of the few things the government, to date, has managed to stay out of.