The National Association of Letter Carriers has reached a stalemate in its talks for a new contract with the U.S. Postal Service and conducted informational picketing Wednesday across the country.
Steve McNees, president of Wasatch Branch (111) of the 244,000-member union, said about 200 of the 650 to 700 members of the local union was to form a picket line at 5:30 p.m. around the Main Post Office at 2100 S. Redwood Road.McNees said the branch, which includes all of Salt Lake County, Bountiful, Tooele and Lehi, represents about half the letter carriers in Utah. He said letter carriers in other Utah branches are sympathetic with the picketing.
Ed McGrath, Pleasant Grove, state president of the union, said other letter carriers across the state will participate in the picketing. But he said he is not sure how many.
"We are flooded with mail today," said McGrath, a letter carrier at an Orem Post Office. He said Orem carriers would participate in picketing at the Provo Post Office.
McNees said letter carriers "will picket to alert the public to the reasons behind a breakdown in contract talks with the postal service." He said the union has not had a negotiated contract with the Postal Service in more than 12 years.
"It has gone to binding arbitration every year during that time," McNees said.
Beverly Burge, a spokeswoman for the Salt Lake City District of the Post Office, said letter carriers have a right to conduct an informational picket. She said the carriers will be doing it on their own time. By federal law, Postal Service employees are not allowed to strike, she said.
She said issues involved in the picketing have to do with the union's national labor agreement.
"We are now in a national arbitration process. And because of that we (the Postal Service) don't issue a comment because it could compromise the process," Burge said.
Burge said that means an arbitrator will likely make a decision on issues separating the letter carriers and Postal Service officials.
McNees acknowledged that federal law "prohibits us (244,000 city delivery letter carriers) from striking."
In statements distributed to the news media, union president Vincent R. Sombrotto, Washington, D.C., said the Postal Service is in its "best financial shape ever -- and the speed and efficiency of mail delivery is setting records -- thanks to our members.
"But when it comes time to recognize the value of the additional burdens borne by letter carriers to enable the Postal Service to achieve these goals, the Postal Service has stonewalled."
Sombrotto said the national union wants the American people to understand that "all we are seeking is a fair contract -- and the only reason we are picketing is because the Postal Service refuses to offer us one."
McNees said automation has allowed the Postal Service to "flourish in the '90s, with more than $5 billion in profits during the past four years. But the job of letter carriers has gotten tougher. We want a fair contract that provides a substantial pay increase to compensate us for that harder work."
In the negotiations, the union sought another four-year contract, with annual wage increases and cost-of-living allowances. The union also seeks to have its members moved up from Level 5 of the postal grade system (which has a salary range of $27,000 to $37,000) to Level 6 (where pay scales are an average of 3 percent higher).
McNees said a letter carrier's pay caps at $37,000 after approximately 12 years.
"There's no way to make more unless there is a contractual increase. And that's what we are after," McNees said.
Union officials say the Postal Service has categorically refused to budge on any of these issues while it reported revenue of $60.1 billion, its highest ever, in 1998, and amassed $5 billion in profits over the past four years. That was the best sustained financial performance in the 27-year history of the Postal Service, the union said.