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A federal arbitration board announced a new, four-year contract Saturday between the U.S. Postal Service and a letter carriers union, providing wage increases, lump-sum payments and six semiannual cost-of-living adjustments.

The arbitrators' settlement took nine months to achieve and followed months of unsuccessful bargaining. The three-member board's decision is final."While we are disappointed that we were unable to reach a negotiated agreement with the letter carriers union, it is time to move forward together with the cooperation of the unions to meet the challenges of competition," Postmaster General Marvin Runyon said in a written statement.

The contract with the National Association of Letter Carriers affects 240,000 employees. Arbitrators are working separately on contract disputes between the Postal Service and two other employee unions.

Union President Vincent R. Sombrotto said he was pleased with the arbitrators' 66-page decision, but he blamed the Postal Service for a negotiations deadlock that sent the matter into binding arbitration.