Two big contracts are up in 2024: the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) agreement covering 220,000 postal clerks, maintenance workers, drivers, and retirees expires September 20, and the contract covering 100,000 members of the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association (NRLCA) expires May 20.
New tech is an issue. APWU has won important job protections such as a no-layoff guarantee for anyone with six years’ seniority — they also cannot be forced to move more than fifty miles if their job is cut. But the US Postal Service is pushing consolidation and automation, which could threaten jobs, even if it’s by attrition. “We’re facing a new generation of high-speed, highly capable parcel-sorting machines,” said Seattle APWU member David Yao.
For the rural letter carriers, a big issue is a new route evaluation system that cuts pay for many. Rural carriers are salaried, not hourly, with their pay based on how long a route is supposed to take — often a bewildering underestimate. “It feels like you need a degree in engineering to figure out the numbers — it’s all these algorithms,” said Dave Staiger in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The hours have gotten longer as the job leans toward more packages, fewer letters.
The city’s National Association of Letter Carriers union (NALC) is still in negotiations, and the contract may be headed for arbitration. Acute understaffing and the low-paid entry-level tier are big issues.
Postal strikes are illegal, though it took two hundred thousand workers breaking that law in 1970 to win the right to collective bargaining.