A Call for Openness in Letter Carriers Contract Negotiations
One striking feature of the current labor resurgence is a trend for greater openness during national contract negotiations. This year the Auto Workers (UAW) at the Big 3 and Teamsters at UPS have provided members with detailed information about their bargaining proposals.
But the Letter Carriers (NALC) has yet to embrace this modern approach. The union is still clinging to the outdated practice of closed-door negotiations.
This year the NALC is engaged in negotiations with the Postal Service (USPS) for a new national contract. The parties are currently in a 60-day mediation period with possible arbitration looming. But as of now, all that members have been told is that the union is advocating for improved pay and working conditions—no specifics.
Contrast this with the UAW, which under new leadership has publicly proposed the elimination of pay tiers, substantial wage increases totaling 40 percent over the next three years, and other reforms tailored to the needs of its members.
The Teamsters, also under new leadership, secured a significant contract for UPS workers just days before a potential strike. The union shared detailed information with members about its bargaining goals, including proposals for substantial wage increases, the elimination of a two-tier system, raises for part-timers, air conditioning in vehicles, and the elimination of driver-facing cameras for disciplinary purposes.
THE BAR HAS RISEN
What exactly is the NALC National Executive Board demanding in the current negotiations? A look at what the Teamsters won at UPS shows the need for the NALC to outperform its 2019-2023 contract.
In that contract, NALC members received four wage increases, ranging from 1.1 percent to 1.3 percent, and kept their cost-of-living raises. The agreement also included a 24-month automatic conversion from non-career City Carrier Associate to career status, job security protections for letter carriers, and the removal of Managed Service Points (MSPs) from city letter carrier routes.
With MSPs, letter carriers were required to scan barcodes at specific points along their delivery routes. If carriers failed to scan or if the scans did not register on their scanners, disciplinary action would be taken against the carriers.
A RIGHT TO KNOW
To ensure that the new NALC contract is competitive, several crucial questions arise:
- What kind of wage increases are they seeking that can keep pace with inflation or match the compensation offered by industry competitors like UPS?
- Are they pushing for the hiring of more Part-Time Flexibles who are career carriers and part of the regular workforce and reducing the reliance on City Carrier Assistants, who lack the same contractual rights or pay schedule as career employees nationwide, in order to alleviate the issue of mandatory overtime that currently burdens the workforce.
- Have they made efforts to address the toxic work environments in many stations caused by management's bullying tactics?
- Are they addressing safety, including the increase in violent assaults and crimes against letter carriers?
The era is past when union members placed blind faith in their leaders. All members have a right to know what objectives their union is pursuing. An informed and engaged membership contributes to a more robust and effective labor movement.
Openness in negotiations extends beyond mere rhetoric. It also builds trust and credibility—not only within the union, but also in the eyes of the public and employers. Demonstrating a commitment to openness makes it easier to gain the support of workers, potential members, and even policymakers—enhancing the union's bargaining power and influence.
As a retired letter carrier, I no longer have a vote on negotiated agreements. But for our younger brothers and sisters, it is imperative that they know precisely what their union is fighting for.
The NALC should adapt to the contemporary climate by embracing such knowledge. In an age where information flows freely, the NALC must meet the expectations of its members, particularly younger ones, to ensure that their voices are heard and respected during negotiations.
Ray Tillman, union and political activist, is a retired letter carrier of Branch 642, which represents Boulder, Louisville, and Lafayette, Colorado.