Contract Negotiations Underway

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(This article appeared in the Sept/Oct 2010 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Greg Bell, Director Industrial Relations

Contract negotiations began on Sept. 1, and bargaining sessions are scheduled every week during the months of September, October, and November. The current contract expires at midnight on Nov. 20, 2010, and a lot of hard bargaining will take place between now and then.

In this round of contract talks, we will face some of our toughest challenges ever: Many issues that have threatened us in the past are looming again, and we will have to fight to retain some of the gains we made in years past. We expect management to challenge our cost-of-living allowance, our healthcare benefits, and our protection against layoffs, and we anticipate that the Postal Service will seek even greater flexibility in assignments.

We will strive to protect these hard-won rights; and to increase wages, improve working conditions, and increase job protection.

Throughout the bargaining process, we expect the Postal Service to exploit the nation’s uncertain economic situation and its own financial difficulties – which have received extensive media attention in recent months. Unfortunately, most of the coverage overlooks the true causes of the Postal Service’s predicament and repeats outlandish management predictions about USPS finances.

The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA) requires the USPS to pre-fund future retirees’ health benefits at a cost of more than $5 billion per year. This is a major contributor to the USPS deficit, and the Postal Service is the only agency or private company required to make such payments.

Another major factor is the USPS overpayment to the Civil Service Retirement System – by as much as $75 billion – due to an inequitable funding formula.

Preparations for Battle

The union’s negotiating team began preparing for bargaining last year. Proposals were developed by analyzing grievance activity, reviewing resolutions passed by the convention delegates, and evaluating suggestions from local unions, presidents’ conferences, national officers and rank-and-file union members. We also sought input from experts, such as the union’s economists and attorneys.

The APWU Constitution provides for a Rank and File Bargaining Advisory Committee, which serves as an important link between union negotiators and members. Although the national negotiating team has full authority to negotiate an agreement, the Rank and File Bargaining Advisory Committee has the power to veto any tentative agreement between the APWU and USPS.

A presentation of preliminary proposals was made to the committee in mid-June. The committee was also on hand for the opening session of negotiations, and will meet as often as necessary until we reach an agreement or impasse.

When the Clock Ticks Down

If the contract expires without an agreement, we will be prepared to move ahead with “interest arbitration.” Under the terms of the Postal Reorganization Act, if the parties fail to reach agreement on a successor contract and do not agree on an alternative procedure, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) appoints a mediator. If agreement is still not reached within 60 days of the expiration of the contract, both parties submit all outstanding issues to binding arbitration.

If arbitration becomes necessary, the APWU will appoint an arbitrator, as will the USPS. These two party-appointed arbitrators will then agree upon a neutral arbitrator to serve as chair of the panel of arbitrators. If the party-appointed arbitrators are unable to agree upon a neutral arbitrator to serve as chair, he or she will be selected from a list provided by the FMCS. The union will review the history of each of the potential arbitrators, and, after completion of the review, the parties will alternately strike names from the list in order to select the neutral arbitrator who will decide the terms of the National Agreement.

The party-appointed arbitrators will serve alongside the neutral arbitrator to ensure that each side’s interests are clearly understood by the neutral arbitrator.

Contract negotiations are tough, but we are up to the task!

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