Postal Labor Negotiations Stall

Contract talks between the U.S. Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union have stalled over demands for “unacceptable” concessions.

Those include scuttling cost-of-living adjustments and forcing employees to contribute more to healthcare coverage, all in an effort to save the USPS money when it’s been bleeding red ink for years.

One of the chief causes of the USPS’s perpetual deficit is its mandate to pay $5.8 billion a year to cover retired employee healthcare costs for 75 years. Does the postal service really think cutting its share of employee healthcare coverage in a union contract is going to reduce this obligation at all?

Or is this proposal just another cynical USPS management attempt to further water down the power of organized labor?

Only Congress can change or eliminate this mammoth obligation. This is not happening anytime soon. But the USPS is showing the excessive hubris in trying to foist higher healthcare costs onto workers.

Even if the American Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers and other labor groups agree to givebacks on healthcare the annual obligation will still be in place.

Maybe this is conflating two separate issues. The $5.8 billion-a-year millstone, which was slipped into the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, covers only retiree healthcare costs and not those of current employees.
But one could contend that because the USPS has this unpayable annual obligation that the postal service can no longer afford to pay as much for current employee healthcare.

Nobody’s gonna buy that argument.

Many people contend that the 2006 healthcare obligation was essentially designed as a way to make the USPS even more insolvent so private operators could eventually step in. This view does have some validity.

The USPS also reportedly wants permanently lower pay and benefits for new employees, weaker protections against layoffs and an increase in more nonprofessional postal employees, in other words non-union. All of this would follow the postal service’s recently-enacted new more lax delivery standards.

Does this impasse represent typical labor/management negotiations or is it symptomatic of a more aggressive strategy to bust unions at a time when conservative politics seem to have gained ascendency with an all-Republican Congress?

Let us also not forget that the USPS wants to save money through scaling back on its delivery responsibilities. This is running into more resistance with each passing day and is going international.

Canada Post, which often imitates the actions of USPS, has already been through this experience in at least one city. The USPS could learn a thing or two here.

In Hamilton, Ontario, which is situated about halfway between Toronto and Buffalo, NY, Canada Post is said to have put on hold a plan to suspend mail delivery to homes and businesses and put them in centrally located drop boxes, according to the Canada Broadcasting Corp http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/union-claims-super-mailbox-plan-on-hold-in-hamilton-canada-post-denies-it-1.3098166.

Canada Post denied this.

For the past two years, the USPS has been selling stamps and other products and services through Staples office supply stores whose workers are not unionized.
This has led the APWU, the United Federation of Teachers and other labor organizations to stage nationwide protests and boycotts of Staples stores. So far at least the postal service and Staples have not really stopped this program.

Some could say these efforts have been ineffective and they’d be essentially correct. But what would have happened if the unions were not in place to at least try and stop these incursions?

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