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Ratification Sets the Stage for Local Negotiations

Greg Bell, Director
Industrial Relations

(This article appeared in the Mar/Apr 2007 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Now that national contract negotiations have been successfully concluded with the ratification of a new National Agreement, locals across the country are preparing for local contract negotiations.

Under Article 30 of the National Agreement, negotiations for a local agreement must occur within a 30-consecutive -day period that will take place during a 60-day period beginning April 2, 2007. While the contract provides for only one 30-consecutive day negotiation period for each local agreement, a local that is negotiating more than one agreement may begin negotiations on each local agreement at different times within the 60-day timeframe. The local can negotiate under different 30-day intervals.

In some cases, the parties may be satisfied with their previous local agreement and elect not to negotiate, but simply to carry over the existing agreement. Moreover, if neither party provides written notification before April 16, 2007, of its intent to invoke the local implementation process, presently effective local agreements shall remain in effect.

Inconsistent or In-Conflict Language

Under the provisions of Article 30, language in local agreements may not be “inconsistent or in conflict” with the National Agreement, and remains in effect during the term of the National Agreement unless it is changed by the results of local negotiations or by the outcome of an arbitration award or settlement.

Prior to the 2000 contract, the Postal Service often claimed that provisions of a local agreement were in conflict or inconsistent with the National Agreement, and would declare the provisions null and void. In many cases, these challenges simply reflected a change in management and a refusal to live up to previously negotiated provisions. This happened even though despite the fact that the local language may have been in effect for years without being challenged, and despite there being nothing in a new National Agreement that affected that language.

However, in 2000, the APWU was successful in having language inserted into Article 30 that says that the employer may challenge local contract language only by making a reasonable claim that the language in the local agreement is inconsistent or in conflict with a new or amended provision of the current National Agreement.

This means that during the current local implementation period, management may challenge an existing local provision only by making a reasonable claim that the provision in dispute is inconsistent or in conflict with a provision of the 2006 National Agreement that is different from a provision in the 2000 National Agreement.

This means, for example, that since there were no changes in the wash-up provisions of the 2006 National Agreement, local management cannot challenge local wash-up provisions as being inconsistent or in conflict.

At the conclusion of the local implementation period, if a dispute exists as to whether an item in a former Local Memorandum of Understanding (LMOU) is inconsistent or in conflict with the new contract, the dispute may be appealed to arbitration in accordance with the impasse provisions of Article 30. Items declared to be inconsistent or in conflict remain in effect until Sept. 30, 2007, or the date of an arbitrator’s award dealing with management’s challenge, whichever is sooner.

Bargaining Subject Matters

Article 30 provides a list of 22 items that are considered “mandatory subjects” for bargaining. This means that if either party requests negotiations and/or submits a proposal on one of the 22 listed items, the parties are required to engage in “good faith” negotiations over that item. The items include wash-up, leave polices, choice vacation period, overtime desired list polices, work schedules, light duty assignments, seniority, reassignments, posting, etc. There is no requirement to reach agreement.

There is nothing in Article 30 that precludes the local parties from negotiating on matters outside the 22 items, provided that negotiations do not result in agreements that are inconsistent or in conflict with the National Agreement. Many local agreements contain previously negotiated subject matters outside the 22 items, but matters not among the 22 listed items are considered “non-mandatory subjects” for bargaining, and unresolved disputes on “non-mandatory” items cannot be submitted to impasse arbitration.

Impasse Arbitration

Certain items that remain in dispute at the conclusion of the local negotiation period can be appealed to impasse arbitration. There are three categories of such items:

Union proposals attempting to establish or change anything with respect to the 22 items listed in Article 30.
LMOU items that management refuses to carry over without changes because it claims that such items are inconsistent or in conflict with new or amended provisions of the 2006 National Agreement.
Proposals on “mandatory” items remaining in dispute that are intended to change existing language in a local agreement and which management asserts to be an “unreasonable burden” for the Postal Service.
It should be noted that, prior to 1990, only the union – not management – had the option of appealing impasse disputes to arbitration. During the 1990 negotiations, however, the arbitration panel modified Article 30 to allow the Postal Service to submit proposals to arbitration, subject to their establishment of an “unreasonable burden.” (A review of local impasse cases under the 1990 through 2000 agreements indicates that the Postal Service has not been very successful in such challenges.)

Appeal Deadlines

There is a fixed deadline for the local parties to appeal to the regional level any issue that remains in dispute at the end of the 30-day local-negotiation period. Appeals to the regional level from local implementation must be filed no later than June 15, 2007.

The contract provides a 75-day period after the expiration of the local negotiations period for the parties at the regional level to attempt to resolve matters in dispute. If the parties are unable to reach agreement, the dispute can be appealed to impasse arbitration.

Disputes can be appealed to arbitration during the 75-day period, but no later than 21 days after the end of the 75-day period. For the 2007 local implementation period, the deadline for appealing disputes to impasse arbitration is Sept. 4, 2007.

Lack of Local Union Structure

The APWU was successful in reaching agreement that the parties at the national level will develop a model “Local Memorandum of Understanding” that will be applied to those offices not covered by an LMOU because of the absence of a local union structure.

APWU CBRs

The Industrial Relations Department has produced a special issue of the Collective Bargaining Report that offers the latest guidelines for local negotiations. It has been mailed to CBR subscribers and is available to authorized union representatives on the Industrial Relations pages at www.apwu.org.

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