The U.S. Postal Service Monday began contract negotiations with the National Rural Letter Carriers Association.
The current contract expires at midnight, Nov. 20. NRLCA represents approximately 115,000 employees who primarily deliver mail in rural and suburban areas.
As talks begin, the postal service faces the most dramatic drop in mail volume in its history. Mail volume has declined 20 percent since 2007 .
"The drop in the economy coupled with the shift to digital communications has created the greatest loss in mail volume since the Great Depression," said Anthony Vegliante, chief human resources officer and executive vice president.
Mail volume peaked at 213 billion pieces in 2006 and plummeted to 177 billion last year. By 2020, mail volume is projected to drop to 150 billion pieces. In 2009 wages and benefits represented 78 percent of total operating costs - $56 billion, the postal service said.
The USPS recently reported a $3.5 billion loss in its quarter ending June 30 and warned that it will run out of money over the next year if it does not get relief from its large pension obligations and reduce its cost structure.
"The Postal Service needs flexibility to adjust to the nation's changing mailing trends," Vegliante continued. "Our dedicated employees are committed to their mission to deliver for America. We have a good working relationship with our unions and know they want to keep us strong in this changing environment. Our goal is to negotiate a contract that's fair to our customers and employees and meets our financial and operational needs."
Three other unions represent most other postal employees. The American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO began contract negotiations Sept. 1. The APWU represents employees who work as clerks, mechanics, vehicle drivers, custodians and some administrative positions. Employees represented by the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO deliver mail in metropolitan areas; and employees represented by the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, AFL-CIO work in mail processing plants and Post Offices.
The contract with APWU, currently being negotiated, expires at midnight Nov. 20, 2010. Contracts with the other two unions expire Nov. 20 next year. The NALC and NPMHU begin negotiations next year approximately 90 days prior to the contract expiration date.
-- Contact Thomas L. Gallagher at email@example.com.