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Below is a response by former APWU President William Burrus to a question posed online by a union member. Other questions cover a wide range of topics, from contract enforcement to union governance.

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Question:

I am a newly converted unassigned regular, and I am getting my first taste of these “bids by seniority.” The whole concept stinks, to put it mildly.

I think people should be qualified for the jobs they are bidding into. I have been doing my job as a DCO for nine years. I have a live record, I am currently qualified, and I have been trained on every aspect of the job. What made my blood BOIL was seeing DCO vacancies awarded to people who are “pending qualification.” What kind of nonsense is this? Only in the Post Office can someone “qualify” for a job they’ve never done before because they have some sort of seniority. Try that in the real world; they wouldn’t even get an interview.

This system is outmoded, outdated, and in need of an overhaul. It is not right that we who are fully qualified are denied bids in favor of people who are not qualified but have seniority. Something needs to be done about this, sir, and I hope you will take this into consideration when you’re at the negotiating table.

Carol, Tampa Area Local

President Burrus:

Thank you for being a union member and for taking the time to share your views.

You suggest that jobs should be awarded to “best qualified” bidders rather than be based on seniority.

Through the years, the union has had experience with both options within the Postal Service, and the experience has been enlightening.

Under a best-qualified selection process, individual managers are empowered to make arbitrary judgments regarding who is and who is not qualified, and then are allowed to select the “best” of those qualified. Unfortunately, selection in this system often is based on the biases of the individual making the selection.

Constant disagreements have resulted. Was the selection based on the relationship between the selector and the person selected? What if one employee was deemed “qualified” and had 10 years of on-the-job experience, while another employee had only five years of experience, but was more knowledgeable and had a better attendance record? The problems were many, and there was no standard for resolving them.

Seniority is a neutral factor and is open to instant verification. One worker has 10 years, another five years, while a third has two years. Comparison is easy and transparent.

On the question of the knowledge necessary to perform a given assignment, because all employees within specific job classifications qualify on the same exam and demonstrate their ability to perform the necessary duties, it is expected that every clerk would be qualified — with training — to perform every clerk assignment. The union has negotiated time periods for employees to demonstrate that they can, in fact, qualify.

I believe a system where every employee is provided the same opportunities is far superior to one where favoritism can run rampant.

I assume that you became qualified on the assignment in which you have interest through an involuntary assignment by management. At some point early in your career, local management insisted that you learn a specific assignment. How fair is it to deny another employee access to that assignment because you became qualified through management’s action? If that were to always be the case, a new employee — perhaps a manager’s son or niece — could be assigned to learn a particular job right after being hired. Months or years later, when it was time to permanently fill positions, the family member would be best-qualified and could be awarded an assignment desired by many.

As you continue your employment and achieve greater seniority, you will come to appreciate the application of the neutral system of seniority. Until then, I ask that you bear with us in a system that rewards longevity.

Once again, thank you being a member.

July 18, 2006

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