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USPS consultant to divine future of stamps under $500K+ contract

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What might the future hold for the humble postal stamp? The financially challenged U.S. Postal Service is paying a New York consulting firm named Faith Popcorn’s BrainReserve more than a half-million dollars to find out.

“Who will be buying stamps in 2019, 2024 and 2034? What will they be used for?,” reads the company’s description of the $566,000 task order awarded last month. “How can we embed innovation and new thinking into stamps, to engage America’s coming generations and the [USPS’s] existing and new customers?”

After starting the job early last month, BrainReserve–whose website touts its consulting specialty as “applied futurism”–is supposed to finish up work by mid-October, the statement indicates. Faith Popcorn, the company’s CEO, is billing the Postal Service at an hourly rate of $836. Labor fees for other BrainReserve staff involved in the project range from $91 to $334 per hour.

According to the description, a copy of which was obtained by Federal Times, BrainReserve is to devise strategies both to slow the “predictable decline” in stamp use and to “reinvent and reimagine” stamp relevance to promote growth. While sales of the adhesive-backed paper squares and rectangles have been steadily waning as Americans turn to the Internet to pay bills and stay in touch, they still garner $8 billion annually for the Postal Service, the company says.

“This is a complex, multi-dimensional issue,” it concludes. “The methodology requires in-depth investigation, analysis and ideation in order to Trend-correct the current decline in USPS Stamp volume and begin to structure powerful mechanisms for growth.”

A BrainReserve employee referred questions to the Postal Service, where spokeswoman Toni DeLancey said the firm was hired in January under a competitively awarded indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to support product innovation and brand management. BrainReserve, which had not previously done business with the Postal Service, was founded in 1974 and has worked for American Express, Campbell Soup Co. and other Fortune 500 firms, DeLancey said in an email.

It is “important to note,” she added, that BrainReserve’s “statements of work” for this and other assignments are not USPS documents. The “terms and conditions of any task order awarded may be different from what is reflected in these documents.” Nagisa Manabe, the Postal Service executive vice-president in charge of sales and marketing, was not available for an interview late last week.

The stamp project is one of five task orders that BrainReserve has so far received, DeLancey said. Another is an almost $1.1 million endeavor to explore the possibility of using letter carriers to provide paid home visitation services to the elderly and ill. Those services could include a daily personal visit and regular checks to make sure that customers are using medical devices or taking prescribed medications, according to the company statement of work for that task order.

Since its founding, the Postal Service has connected people, often going beyond the call of duty to provide “caring personal connections in times of crisis,” the document adds. The home visit concept “builds upon and formalizes this powerful aspect of the USPS heritage.”

At the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, one of two unions representing the workers who would play a central role in any such visitation program, a spokesman said the group is not currently involved in the project, but would “very much” like to be. Efforts to get comment from the National Association of Letter Carriers were unsuccessful.

For anyone who’s interested, you can check out the statements of work for the two task orders here.

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Postal union political spending up this election

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Organized labor may be hurting, but it would be hard to tell from the amount of money that the four big postal unions are spending on this year’s presidential and congressional races.

According to their most recent disclosure reports filed earlier this month, the four–through their political action committees–had shoveled about $9.6 million into the 2012 election cycle, already ahead of the $8.9 million total for 2010, a non-presidential election year, according to data compiled by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics.

Accounting for more than half of the 2012 sum was the National Association of Letter Carriers, followed by the American Postal Workers Union, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.

The stepped-up giving comes as Congress is struggling to find a fix for the U.S. Postal Service’s myriad problems that could have far-reaching consequences for rank-and-file employees, particularly if lawmakers agree to the agency’s plan to end most Saturday mail delivery.

In regard to campaign contributions, the bulk of union giving has been directed to Democratic candidates and party organizations, although an occasional Republican does turn up as a recipient. Most notably, the rural letter carriers’ PAC gave $8,500 to Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chairman who wants to eliminate layoff protections from future Postal Service labor contracts.

Here’s the spending breakdown for 2012 and 2010:

Union            2012                    2010

NALC:       $5,751,165       $5,407,918

APWU:     $2,136,855       $2,070,352

NRLCA:   $1,258,708       $1,255, 141

NPMHU:    $429,575           $198,359

TOTAL:   $9,576,303       $8,931,740

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Rural letter carriers’ contract concessions follow APWU precedent

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When American Postal Workers Union members agreed to a contract last year that included wage and benefit concessions, they were obviously binding themselves for the life of the agreement with the U.S. Postal Service. Less obvious—at least to FedLine–was that they were also setting the stage for similar givebacks by other postal unions.

That’s a lot clearer now, however, with the award of the three-member arbitration board charged with setting the terms of a new contract between Postal Service and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association.

The APWU agreement “provided precedent that would have been very difficult to ignore,” wrote Joey Johnson, the board’s NRLCA-appointed member, who partially dissented from the final decision announced yesterday.

Just like the APWU contract, for example, the new agreement for the rural letter carriers includes creation of a two-tier wage system that will pay new career employees more than 10 percent less, according a USPS summary. The deal also means lower wages for new non-career rural carrier associates to the tune of more than 20 percent, the summary says. Rural letter carriers will also shoulder an increasing share of the cost of their health insurance premiums, exactly along the lines of the APWU contract.

It could have been worse, of course. The Postal Service apparently wanted deeper concessions than those agreed to by the APWU on the grounds that its financial condition had deteriorated since last year. That line of argument didn’t persuade the arbitration board’s chair, Jack Clarke. The big problem, Clarke wrote, is Congress’ failure “to address the overall mission and financing of the Service in a time of deteriorating mail volumes and reduced public demand for hard-copy postal services.”

The new contract does contain modest wage and cost-of-living adjustments. It also suggests what’s ahead for members of the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, the other two postal unions whose contracts expired last November. Following the failure of negotiations with the Postal Service, both are proceeding with binding arbitration.


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Arbitrators to decide terms of three postal union contracts

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Now that the U.S. Postal Service and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union are officially arbitration-bound, it seems time for an overview of the state of USPS labor negotiations that will affect both the mail carrier’s bottom line, not to mention the incomes and working conditions of tens of thousands of postal workers.

More than a year has passed since members of the American Postal Workers Union ratified a new contract that will run through 2015. But the Postal Service has yet to sew up agreements with its other three bargaining units.

Its last contract with the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, for example, expired in November 2010; after the two sides couldn’t reach a successor deal, arbitration hearings wound up in April. NRLCA members are now waiting to hear the outcome from the three-member panel headed by neutral arbitrator Jack Clarke.

Contracts with the mail handlers union and the National Association of Letter Carriers both played out last November. After a failed bid at mediation earlier this year, the NALC announced a few weeks ago that Shyam Das will  chair the arbitration panel, with discussions under way to set a hearing schedule that could last several months. Last but not least, the mail handlers union announced last week that it’s also headed to arbitration after mediation also proved unsuccessful.

Both labor and management tend to be tight-lipped about the exact issues that lead to hangups in contract talks. There’s little doubt, however, that this round has been particularly arduous, as the Postal Service seeks to win cost-saving concessions.  The terms of last year’s APWU contract, for example, were such that the union’s immediate past president, William Burrus, opposed ratification.

In a posting on its web site last week, the mail handlers union suggested that one factor in the failure of mediation in its case was Congress’ slowness in acting on legislation “to support the long-term financial well-being of the Postal Service as an ongoing institution and government agency.”  In addition, “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.”

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Arbitration ahead for Postal Service and National Association of Letter Carriers

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Well, that didn’t take long. Less than a month after National Association of Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando said the union was “committed” to reaching agreement on a new labor contract through mediation, it’s now headed to binding arbitration with the U.S. Postal Service, according to a release posted on a USPS site. The arbitration process will wrap up later this year, the Postal Service said.

A NALC spokesman had no immediate comment this morning.

The news comes three months after impasses were declared in the Postal Service’s negotiations with both the NALC and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union. Although the unions’ previous contracts officially expired in November, the terms remain in effect until new agreements are reached. After an impasse, the next step is normally mediation, followed by arbitration. Talks with the mail handlers union remain in mediation, according to the Postal Service.

Although both USPS and union negotiators are typically tight-lipped about the status of contract talks, there’s no question that the latest round has been exceptionally difficult. The National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association and the Postal Service are already in arbitration. Although the Postal Service clinched a new contract last year with the American Postal Workers Union, the final deal created a two-tier wage system that means new hires will make 10.2 percent less on average.

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Postal Service and mail handlers heading into mediation

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For those keeping track of the three-ring show known as U.S. Postal Service labor negotiations, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union reports that a federally appointed mediator is now in place to help the two sides settle on a new contract. The mediation process can take 60 days; if it fails, the next step will likely be binding arbitration.

An impasse was declared in late January in the Postal Service’s contract talks with both the mail handlers union and the National Association of Letter Carriers. The NALC announced the appointment of a mediator last month. “We’re working hard,” President Fredric Rolando said in a statement today. “We’re committed to reaching an agreement through the mediation process.”

But the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association is already in arbitration. In an update posted earlier this month on its web site, the NRLCA reported that both sides had concluded their introductory cases before a three-member arbitration panel. As a matter of policy, USPS officials don’t publicly discuss labor negotiations. By the NRLCA’s telling, however, the Postal Service attempted to persuade the panel that its financial condition “requires dramatic actions to curb or reduce wages, COLA allowances, paid leave, health and other benefits that rural letter carriers and this union have worked hard to achieve.”

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U.S. Postal Service labor negotiations collapse

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This probably comes as a surprise to just about no one, but an impasse was officially declared today in contract talks between the U.S. Postal Service and two unions: the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.  The next step will presumably be mediation or binding arbitration.

The impasse comes two months after prior contracts with both unions officially expired Nov. 20. All sides kept talking after that through two extensions,  but could not agree on another extension to keep negotiations alive past today.  The parties “currently are discussing how they will proceed,” USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said in a news release. “The existing contracts will be followed until terms of a new contract are resolved.”

The Postal Service is already in arbitration with the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association. Members of its fourth union, the American Postal Workers Union, ratified a new contract last year that will run until May 2015.

No official word on what triggered today’s breakdown, but the Postal Service has made no secret of its desire for cost-cutting concessions, at least some of which labor was bound to resist. In  a news release, NALC President Fredric Rolando said it was the Postal Service’s decision to end negotiations.  Calling the decision a disappointment, Rolando said the union “will pursue a negotiated agreement through mediation and prepare to vigorously defend our members in  interest arbitration, if it reaches that step.”

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Contract talks to continue between unions and Postal Service

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The U.S. Postal Service and two of its major unions will stay at the bargaining table for at least another week-and-a-half, all sides said today in separate news releases.

An earlier extension of contract negotiations with the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union was on track to expire today; that deadline is now midnight, Dec. 16. “We have been working in good faith to hammer out a new contract and we hope that this extension will lead to an agreement that our members can enthusiastically ratify,” NALC President Fredric Rolando said.

Previous contracts for both unions officially expired Nov. 20. The NALC represents more than 195,000 postal workers, the NPMHU more than 45,000. If negotiations fail to produce new agreements in either case, the next step would be arbitration, which is the path taken by the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Union.  That process formally began Monday, according to a posting on the NRLCA’s web site.

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U.S. Postal Service extends contract talks with two unions

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No surprise here, but the U.S. Postal Service and two of its unions failed to agree on new contracts by yesterday’s deadline and have agreed to keep talking at least through Dec. 7.

Existing agreements with the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union officially expired at midnight Sunday. “The parties continue  to discuss a host of important and complicated issues,” NPMHU officials said in a news release posted on the union’s web site. “The negotiations are at a very delicate stage, and of this writing, it still is impossible to tell whether an overall deal is likely.”

“We have been working in good faith to hammer out a new contract and we hope that this extension will lead to an agreement that our members can enthusiastically ratify,” NALC President Fredric Rolando said in a separate online release.

Rolando, incidentally, has scheduled a news conference this afternoon at the National Press Club at which he will outline a new approach to employee health benefits to save the “Postal Service billions of dollars, paving the way for financial stability and preventing major service cuts for the public and businesses,” according to a news advisory.

The mail handlers union represents more than 45,000 USPS employees who work in mail processing plants and post offices; the NALC represents more than 195,000 letter carriers who deliver mail mainly in urban areas, according to the Postal Service. In May, the financially struggling agency reached a deal with the American Postal Workers Union that will run until 2015. Talks with the fourth major postal union, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, have reached an impasse, meaning a new contract in that case will be decided through arbitration.

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Start date set for arbitration between the U.S. Postal Service and rural letter carriers union

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A three-member arbitration panel will begin hearings Dec. 5 on a new contract between the U.S. Postal Service and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, according to a posting on the union’s web site.

The panel’s neutral member will be Jack Clarke, a member of the National Academy of Arbitrators and a veteran of the NRLCA-USPS southern area arbitration panel, the posting said. The union has named Joey Johnson, its director of labor relations, to the panel while the Postal Service has appointed Robert Dufek, its manager for labor relations strategies.

The first round of hearings will go through Dec. 8, according to the Postal Service, while additional sessions could continue into April if needed.  The hearings will kick off more than a year after an impasse was declared last November in contract negotiations between the two sides. They nonetheless continued to talk for months after that, only deciding this summer to take the plunge to arbitration.

The hearings will alternate between USPS headquarters in Washington and the union’s headquarters in nearby northern Virginia, a Postal Service spokeswoman said.



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