It could be months before the NLRB rules on a union unit determination request by Postmaster General William Bolger.Contract talks between the Postal Service and four major groups -- the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), American Postal Workers Union (APWU), Mailhandlers and National Rural Letter Carriers Association -- were to start next week. But Bolger says the unions are so busy fighting each other that it will be impossible to negotiate for a contract to replace the agreement expiring July 20.

The NALC and APWU have agreed to bargain as a team. But the Letter Carriers are trying to organize the rural letter carries are trying to organize the rural letter carriers. And APWU is wooing members who belong to a sister AFL-CIO union representing mail handlers. The postmaster general says the service can't negotiate under the cirumstances, and he has asked the NLRB to determine which union -- or unions -- are the bargaining agents for the service's 600,000 workers.

Until that is decided, he says, the current contract (with its no-layoff clause) should remain in effect. Unions say this is dirty pool, and that they are willing to begin talks on schedule, even if they sit at separate tables. It could be a long, long time before the NLRB makes a decision on this one. i