Mike Morris, Director
USPS Survey Tactics Raise Concerns
Greg Bell, Director
(This article was first published in the May/June 2005 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
The postal service is once again promoting its voice of the Employee Survey. Employee surveys and participation programs have long been a point of dispute between the Postal Service and the APWU, with the union actively urging our members not to take part in such studies. Our main concern is that the Postal Service has misrepresented the results of employee opinion surveys in the past, including during contract negotiations and interest arbitrations when it has used survey data to justify claims that employees supported its wage proposals.
This year, some new tactics on the part of local management are raising new concerns. At the Des Moines Bulk Mail Center, for example, employees who elected not to complete the survey were required to return the uncompleted survey forms to management. At the Asheville, NC, Post Office, employees who elected to not complete the survey were summoned to a supervisor’s office where they were asked questions similar to those on the survey, including questions about recognition, dignity and respect.
When written surveys are distributed and collected in this manner, privacy and the chain of custody of the survey forms are easily compromised. When it permits managers to collect forms that employees have not completed, the Postal Service creates the opportunity for the managers to complete the surveys, mail them to the contractor along with any other surveys it chooses, and obtain the desired results.
When a supervisor asks employees the survey questions verbally, the survey can no longer be considered voluntary, nor is it confidential.
We believe that these tactics are intended to intimidate and discourage employees from boycotting the VOE survey, and will actually taint the results. We therefore asked the Postal Service to explain the actions in Des Moines and Asheville, and we inquired as to whether this was part of a national policy.
The USPS Response
In a March 21, 2005, letter from USPS Labor Relations, the APWU was provided with a copy of instructions for managers who administer the VOE survey. These instructions state that, while management is allowed to provide a receptacle for employees to turn in their completed surveys, “If the employees prefer to mail their own surveys, they must be permitted to do so.”
The instructions go on to state, “At no time should the supervisor/manager handle the surveys once they have been given to the employees.” The document further instructs managers to “not say anything to the employees about how to answer questions or do anything that the employees could perceive as a breach of their confidentiality of responses.”
We also have been informed that, upon notification of any site not following these instructions, the Postal Service will investigate the allegation and ensure that any appropriate remedial action is taken.
Notwithstanding the above, the union is continuing to pursue this issue at the national level, and locals that experience such “prohibited” management behavior should take whatever action (e.g. grievances, unfair labor practice charges, etc.) they deem necessary.
Employee Participation Programs
In regard to the activities that occurred in Asheville, NC, the Postal Service states that local management was attempting to implement a local initiative known as CARE – Communication, Accountability, Recognition, and Environment. This program, the USPS says, is intended as a way to try to improve the working environment; moreover, the USPS policy is that such local programs may be implemented only with the knowledge and consent of the local union.
To reinforce this policy, the USPS Vice President for Labor Relations issued a memorandum on March 1 on the subject of employee participation programs. The memorandum instructs area operations that “craft employees may only be involved in [the CARE program] with the knowledge and consent of the local APWU organization.” These types of “employee participation programs” invariably affect working conditions, and there is no agreement with the USPS that would permit our bargaining unit employees to participate in such programs. It is understood that the national union does not authorize local unions to reach agreement with local management permitting our bargaining unit employees to participate in such programs.
An April 9, 1992, settlement affirms the APWU’s right not to participate in such programs. The agreement reached 13 years ago states: “Management must respect the APWU’s decision not to participate in the EI/QWL [Employee Involvement/Quality of Work Life] process and APWU bargaining unit employees shall not be participants or members of any EI/QWL committee not jointly established by the APWU and the Postal Service.”
Needless to say, the APWU has not “jointly established” any type of EI/QWL process and therefore could not have agreed to participate in any type of EI/QWL process. Therefore, pursuant to the settlement agreement, APWU bargaining unit employees are not permitted to be participants in any type of EI/QWL process or program that affects wages, hours or working conditions.
Focus Groups Add to Our Concerns
While the March 1 memo from Labor Relations addresses some of our concerns, it raises others. In that memo, the Postal Service indicates that it believes the establishment of “focus groups for the sole purpose of collecting information and/or opinions” is permitted without the union’s agreement.
It is the APWU’s position that such activities also violate the 1992 settlement agreement, as well as a Nov. 2, 1993, Labor Management Cooperation Agreement that provides “the Postal Service will work with and through the national, regional, and local union leadership, rather than directly with employees on issues which affect working conditions....” The APWU has been steadfast in our opposition to members’ participation in such studies. We have learned through our own bitter experience that surveys conducted by an employer are designed to circumvent union representation and are part of an effort to reduce employee wages and benefits.
Misrepresented or Manipulated
Simply put, the practice tends to undermine collective bargaining: We believe that the results of surveys conducted by management can be misrepresented or manipulated by the Postal Service in order to achieve goals that the union does not share.
The APWU is opposed to all forms of USPS surveys of employees, and we always discourage union members from participating. A union policy, adopted by the National Executive Board in 1998, contests “the use of all surveys, focus groups, polls and audits as a means of interviewing employees and union officials to evaluate job-related and internal issues.”
As we pursue this matter, I have requested that locals provide the APWU Industrial Relations Department with information (along with any supporting documentation) whenever the Postal Service engages in any of the following practices in their area: Collecting unanswered VOE Surveys; verbally questioning employees who elect not to complete the VOE Surveys; or conducting any local “employee participation program” involving APWU bargaining unit employees.