Good morning! Welcome to United States Government Lines. Please fasten your seat belts, extinguish your 15-cent stamps and be prepared to mail early, like June, to ensure prompt Christmas delivery. Contract time is upon us. And things promise to be a bit hairy, and confusing, for the next few months.

If you never fly in an airplane, have no friends or loved ones who travel or do business by air, or somehow manage to avoid getting any of the 100 billion (that is billion, not million) pieces of mail that go out every year, you can stop reading right here. This doesn't concern you. But if you do get or send letters, or tulip bulbs by mail, if you fly or just drive people to the airport, stick around.

In case you have been preoccupied with El Salvador, Rita Jenrette, David Stockman, the latest cancer scare or whatever, be advised there are new clouds on the horizon: Strikes, maybe, in two very important outfits -- the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Aviation Administration.

FAA is talking new contract with its traffic controllers. They are people who keep airplanes from driving in the wrong lane and landing in the wrong place. The USPS, which has 600,000 people who pick up, sort and deliver (by foot, horse, dog sled and jet) grannie's fruitcakes and Playboy's cheesecake, bills and valentines to our mail boxes Monday through Saturday.

FAA types represented by the militant Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization want more pay, shorter hours and retraining benefits for people who burn out early.

USPS workers, represented by four groups (which are quietly trying to cut each other's throats) want continued protection from inflation, automation, job-insurance and safer conditions in postal factories that, for dirt, drudgery and danger, sometimes rival any sweat, shop in America.

Depending on who you talk to last, both the unions and management have excellent points. The unions have bona fide grievances and demands and want to provide good service. Management says it must consider the bigger picture, and protect the rights and interests of The American Public!

The danger is that the people both sides say they want to preserve and protect -- us -- will get caught in the middle, stuck in a three-hour holding pattern over National Airport, O'Hare or LA International. Or that the one in every five of us who gets a Social Security check won't, or that the New York bank that owns your home place will not accept the old check-is-in-the-mail alibi, even if there is no mail.

Nobody wants a strike. Well, almost nobody. Some people, union and management, get off on a picket line, and would love a fight if the other guy loses.

Since it is against the law to "withhold labor" from Uncle Sam -- workers can be fired, hit with a heavy fine and sent to jail for 366 days -- the word "strike" is seldom heard as a discouraging word. People use buzz words: job action, work-to-rule, sickout! Unions don't talk strike because of the penalties. FAA punished some controllers. Three years ago, USPS fired some employees for an unsanctioned (by unions) wildcat strike. But times change.

Congress and the White House are in more conservative hands. The House of Labor is divided. The American Postal Workers Union is trying to organize members of its sister AFL-CIO group, the Mail Handlers, a division of the tough Laborers International Union. The National Association of Letter CARRIERS (AFL-CIO) is trying to organize people in the independent National Rural Letter Carriers Association. Leaders of the two biggest postal groups, NALC and the APWU, have repeatedly told members no mail will be delivered July 21 unless their next contract maintains cost-of-living wage protections.

The Postal Service says it can't afford it. Postmaster General William Bolger says he would relax rules giving USPS its first-class-mail monopoly if service is disrupted. And his New England vacation place is booked for July 19. Bolger says he is planning to take his vacation as scheduled.

FAA is cheerful but will have management people working overtime this weekend . . . . Union chiefs say they don't want any trouble . . . .

And the captain of the Titanic said not to worry about a little ole iceberg.