Thursday, June 10, 1999

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Island letter carriers circle the downtown post office
to protest stalled contract talks in Washington, D.C.

State postal workers
take part in nationwide
salary protest

By Mary Adamski


More than 400 Hawaii letter carriers marched with picket signs around the downtown Honolulu post office to inform the public about their stalled contract negotiations.

The messages displayed yesterday, "Stop Dissing Carriers" and "Share the $5 Billion," were not aimed at local Postal Service officials. The marchers were part of a one-day nationwide demonstration aimed at stimulating action in Washington, D.C., where negotiations stalled in November.

The National Association of Letter Carriers is seeking an upgrade to a higher federal pay level which would mean a 3 percent annual pay increase, said local spokesman Jim Watson.

The Postal Service has offered the carriers and other post office workers a two-year contract with increases of 2 percent and 1.4 percent.

The signs referred to $5 billion which, Watson said, was the profit the Postal Service made during the last four years.

The union seeks an upgrade in pay level because "our work is tougher," said Terry Kaolulo, a member of the state board, which includes 16 local units.

Kaolulo said the union has supported the automation and modernization which has replaced the manual sorting and separating of mail, however, "The fact is it didn't make the job easier for a carrier."

New equipment took over work each carrier used to do in the office, and that meant the carrier had more time outside. That led to expanded delivery routes, Watson said. "Street time went from 50 percent of an eight-hour shift to 70 percent."

Meanwhile, despite competition from parcel delivery services, Postal Service volume has increased, due in large part to burgeoning mail order business, including from Internet orders.

Catalogs are a major proportion of the average 41 tons of mail each carrier lugs in a year, Kaolulo said.

"We have a high rate of arthritis, back injuries and other physical stress," she said. "Since the work is getting tougher, it's only fair we get an upgrade."

There are 985 letter carriers in Hawaii and 244,000 nationwide. They are in federal salary level 5 which provides annual pay ranging from $27,000 for beginners to $37,000.

Watson said the issue of a four-year contract, which they have traditionally had, instead of the two-year pact the Postal Service offers this time, is "important to our security as career workers."

"In the past 12 years, we have never had a settlement," Watson said. "It always goes to arbitration, where we have to convince a neutral party. Plus it costs millions of dollars."

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