I have been asked to speculate on the breakdown of contract negotiations between the Postal Service, the Letter Carriers and the Mail Handlers. Having received no information directly from the negotiators or from anyone directly associated with the negotiators, I cannot speak with authority on the subjects discussed or the exact points in dispute leading to the termination of negotiations. Nevertheless having been involved in 13 contract negotiations, I can point to the most likely scenario and what issues are in play.
The issues involved are more than likely the USPS’ health care cost and NALC craft jurisdiction. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for the Postal Service is not in employee hourly wages, but in the enormous cost associated with health care funding, including that of retirees. One way of addressing this staggering cost would be a health plan covering every letter carrier, controlled fully by the Postal Service and NALC. There are so many possibilities in the design and operations of such a new means of providing health care and details of such a plan are intricate and voluminous. Disagreement is possible at multiple points in the discussions but the pay off, if agreement can be reached is so substantial that the negotiators will extend every effort to find common ground.
From the Letter Carriers’ perspective they would not have to defend existing wages and benefits, in return the union can demand craft jurisdiction protecting against contracting and the ongoing battle in rural delivery. The health care funding and craft jurisdiction will not be decided in arbitration so those issues serve as an incentive to seek a negotiated agreement.
If the Letter Carriers go to arbitration they will have to convince the arbitrator not to impose the draconian wage cuts on the next generation patterned after the APWU contract. Moreover, the Postal Service is aware that an arbitrator is highly unlikely to disturb the historic relationship between postal employees and the federal program FEHB. It is clear by the extended contract extensions that the parties have identified the pieces necessary for an agreement but one or more demands are a deal breaker.
I would not close out the possibility of a negotiated agreement during the extended statutory process culminating in an arbitrated decision. These are smart negotiators who understand what is at stake and they will explore every conceivable angle to reach agreement because the alternative does not get them where they want to go.