(June 27, 2012) Collective bargaining between the NPMHU and the Postal Service over the terms of the 2011 National Agreement has reached a new stage in the implementation of dispute resolution procedures adopted by the parties – that is, the parties have initiated the process for starting interest arbitration under Section 1207(c) of the Postal Reorganization Act (PRA), as amended in 2006.
The upcoming arbitration will be conducted under the supervision of a three-member panel, with a neutral arbitrator serving as chair of the panel. The parties are currently discussing selection of the neutral arbitrator; if no agreement is reached, the parties will ask the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) to produce a list of potential arbitrators, and the parties will strike names from that list until one remains.
The arbitration phase of the dispute resolution process follows an attempt at mediation which proved unsuccessful. In March 2012, FMCS Director George Cohen announced the appointment of Herbert Fishgold as the mediator for the NPMHU/USPS dispute. Previously, Mr. Fishgold has served as a third-party neutral for more than 30 years, during which time he has mediated and arbitrated bargaining disputes in a wide range of industries at the national, state, and local levels.
Mediator Fishgold held several meetings with the parties and their representatives. Because he already was familiar with many of the basic facts and issues presented by the Postal Service, the mailing industry, and postal employees generally – based on, among other things, his service as an interest arbitrator in the 2006 dispute between the National Rural Letter Carriers Association and the Postal Service – Fishgold was able to jump into the mediation process quickly, without expending a lot of time and effort to familiarize himself with the unique industry that is the Postal Service. That also allowed the mediator and the parties to have frank discussions about their differences, and about possible ideas for narrowing or eliminating those differences.
While both parties held out hope for success during the mediation process, the success of that effort was more likely than not to depend on whether Congress acted timely to support the long-term financial well-being of the Postal Service as an ongoing institution and government agency. The current prospects for legislative action remain unclear, and that inaction certainly presented an obstacle to resolving the current bargaining dispute during mediation. The mediation effort continued for more than sixty days, and ultimately concluded when the parties determined that the process was unlikely to result in a negotiated settlement.
Several other factors also have come into play as the NPMHU dispute resolution process unfolds. First and foremost, the American Postal Workers Union and the Postal Service reached a comprehensive agreement in March 2011, and that agreement has been held out by some as a pattern or a baseline for future negotiations. Second, the National Association of Letter Carriers is also currently involved in interest arbitration, and has recently announced the selection of Arbitrator Shyam Das as the neutral arbitrator on that panel. Third, and perhaps of most importance, the Postal Service and the National Rural Letter Carriers Association have finalized their interest arbitration hearings, which began in December 2011, and are awaiting the decision from their panel, which is headed by Arbitrator Jack Clarke. The status of the bargaining agreements for our three sister postal unions clearly could have an effect on what is already an exceedingly complicated process regarding the NPMHU-USPS contract dispute.
With history as a guide, it likely will take several months to schedule, implement, and conduct the NPMHU arbitration process. To the extent possible, the National Office will keep all mail handlers informed of developments through the various modes of NPMHU communications, including monthly bulletins, Contract Updates, and website postings (at www.npmhu.org). Please continue to read these communications as they are distributed.