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Postal Service, unions agree on pact

The U.S. Postal Service and labor unions representing 560,000 workers accepted a four-year contract Wednesday drawn up by an arbitration panel, ending a seven-month impasse that had threatened to become a major dispute. In the agreement, salaries for mail carriers and postal clerks will rise about 6 percent over the life of the contract, an increase that Postmaster General Anthony M. Frank said should not have an effect on postal rates.

"We believe that this decision is responsive to the concerns expressed by our customers," Frank said. "We also feel that our employees are receiving a good package of wages and benefits."

The contract was ordered by an arbitration panel that was established in February when more than four months of direct negotiations stalled.

When Postal Service contracts lapsed in November, leaders of the American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers demanded an 8 percent wage increase for 1991 and 7 percent increases for 1992 and 1993. Postal administrators, however, claimed that giving in to those demands would eventually force the price for mailing a first-class letter to as much as 50 cents from the current 29 cents.

The new contract also allows for the hiring of more temporary and part-time workers while the Postal Service completes an automation system. The agreement says that up to one-fifth of all postal workers can now be hired on this "non-career" basis. Part-time and temporary employees previously made up 12 percent of the Postal Service work force.

The contract provides annual pay increases, beginning with a 1.2 percent increase effective Saturday. Workers also will receive a $351 payment since the contract is retroactive to November.

Wages for postal workers now average from $24,000 to $31,500 a year.