The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is proud of its pledge to deliver mail through all kinds of tough stuff. But it looks like one of its hardest jobs is getting through contract talks.

Negotiations with one of its largest labor organizations, the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), stalled on Wednesday.

Fortunately, stalled is not the same as stopped.

APWU said both sides will begin mediation in an attempt to reach agreement. Until then, “all the protections of the 2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement will continue in full force and effect until a new contract is reached,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein.

Services to the public also will continue.

“No postal services are threatened — absolutely not,” said Douglas A. Tulino, USPS labor relations vice president. “United States Postal employees are extremely dedicated and understand we have mechanisms in place, including mediation and interest arbitration, to resolve our differences.”

But APWU members, dedicated though they may be, don’t understand the agency’s negotiating position. Dimondstein called “management’s economic demands and proposed changes to the workforce structure … completely unacceptable.”

Those demands include eliminating current cost-of-living adjustments, increasing employees’ contributions to health-care coverage, instituting lower pay for future career employees who would get reduced benefits, increasing the percentage of non-career employees and weakening protections against layoffs, according to APWU.

Not surprisingly, USPS has a different view.

“The APWU’s assessment of our economic proposal is inaccurate,”  Tulino said. “Our objective is to build a workforce that enables the Postal Service to compete and thrive well into the future.”

He would not explain what the USPS economic proposal is, but did say both sides are working “diligently and professionally in an attempt to reach agreement.”

All this might sound strange to other federal workers, most of whom are not represented by unions with the same bargaining power as those for postal workers. Unlike other agencies, the Postal Service gets its operating funds from the products and services it sells, not tax revenue.

Talks also broke down last week between the Postal Service and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association (NRLCA).

“We did make significant progress in our discussions with the Postal Service over the past few months,” said NRLCA President Jeanette Dwyer. “Unfortunately, the parties were unable to agree on the core financial issues that are critical to reaching an overall agreement.”

Meanwhile, APWU has engaged in a high-profile effort to draw public support.

Two weeks ago it rallied with actor and activist Danny Glover, the son of postal workers, outside the Post Office on 14th Street, NW, between K and L streets, in Washington. That was one of scores of APWU rallies around the country on the same day.

But not all union activities are so high profile.

Dimondstein urged his members to promote the union by doing something as simple as wearing a sticker.

“Postal management takes note of how many of our members are wearing union buttons, stickers and T-shirts, and how many union members participate in rallies and other activities,” he said. “They take it as a sign of the union’s strength.”

Federal pot policy

Federal labor organizations are reacting cautiously, if at all, to the Office of Personnel Management’s directive that reminds feds not to use marijuana no matter what their local laws say.

Tuesday’s memo to agency heads from OPM Director Katherine Archuleta said “Federal law on marijuana remains unchanged….  Thus knowing or intentional marijuana possession is illegal, even if an individual has no intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense marijuana.”

No exceptions were made for those who use marijuana only for medicinal purposes.

With 23 states and the District of Columbia allowing medical marijuana and a few places, including the District, allowing recreational use, Uncle Sam’s policy is increasingly archaic. He certainly doesn’t want to be out front on this issue.

Neither does the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal union, nor the National Federation of Federal Employees. Neither had any comment on the pot policy. The National Treasury Employees Union didn’t respond at all.

The International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers did not endorse or condemn the policy, but took a middle view, calling it “not surprising.”

“It is interesting though that the administration felt compelled to restate the current policy given the uptick in States approving the use, and even the sale of marijuana,” Matthew S. Biggs, IFPTE’s legislative and political director, said by e-mail. “Almost makes you wonder if this directive was targeted more toward federal workers, or States that are looking to do what DC, Washington, Oregon and others have done with their marijuana laws?”