A U.S. Post Office mail clerk moves letters from a cart to a sorting area at the Phoenix Processing and Distribution center in Arizona. Members of the Postal Service's largest union overwhelmingly approved a new contract for clerks, drivers and other employees. (Jeff Topping / Getty Images)
Members of the U.S. Postal Service's largest union overwhelmingly approved a new 4½-year contract for 205,000 clerks, drivers and other employees.
About 52 percent of eligible American Postal Workers Union members voted, and they approved the contract by more than a 3-to-1 margin. The agreement is retroactive to November, when the previous contract expired, and it ends May 2015.
"The agreement includes many big changes, and I realize that some union activists are apprehensive," APWU President Cliff Guffey said in the news release.
The deal preserves layoff protections for career employees who were on the rolls as of last November while furnishing a total of 3.5 percent in wage increases. But it also creates a two-tier wage system that will mean lower pay for new hires.
In a March open letter, former APWU President William Burrus decried the deal on grounds that it would "turn back the clock." Conversely, congressional Republicans objected that it didn't do enough to cut labor costs at the cash-strapped agency.
The Postal Service has yet to reach an agreement with the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, whose contract also expired in November. Contracts with the Postal Service's other two unions, the National Association of Letter Carriers and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, are up for renewal this November.