USPS Finally Gets It:
We Care About Safety
Eastern Region Coordinator
(This article first appeared in the July/August 2013 edition of The American Postal Worker.)
It appears the USPS has finally figured out that our members and representatives take safety seriously. At a recent Eastern Area Labor/Management meeting, the area safety manager announced that the USPS was embarking on a new program that requires supervisors and managers to take reports of unsafe working conditions seriously and to respond in writing to PS Form 1767, Report of Hazard, Unsafe Condition or Practice.
Management finally seems to realize that if the USPS fails to take action to abate hazards, we will contact the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). Management also finally seems to understand that if OSHA inspects an office and identifies a safety hazard, the USPS will be fined.
So, to avoid intervention by OSHA and the accompanying fines, the USPS has decided to do what management should have been doing all along – responding responsibly to workers’ reports of unsafe conditions.
The discovery of ricin in letters addressed to President Obama, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and a Mississippi judge in April was alarming because once again deadly poisons were shipped via the mail, with the potential to adversely affect postal workers.
Having been in contaminated postal installations shortly after the anthrax attacks of 2001 and having waited in long lines at the hospital with other postal workers to get government-issued antibiotics, I understand the concerns of workers who fear they have been poisoned. We will never forget Joseph Curseen and Thomas Morris, our fellow postal employees who perished in the anthrax attacks of 2001.
For the most part, Capitol Metro Area Operations and the Capitol District managers acted in a timely and responsible manner in addressing this situation. They met with employee representatives, as well as employees in the potentially affected installations.
Area managers held multiple teleconferences giving timely updates on the status of testing, the results, and the fact that no employees were reporting symptoms. Medical staff and the Postal Inspection Service updated the unions with information from the Center for Disease Control and the FBI.
In the end, we learned that the production of the ricin was somewhat primitive, the level of toxicity was very low, and there were no reports that anyone had ingested or inhaled the poison. A suspect was arrested, and we will continue to monitor developments in the case.
Unfortunately, several other ricin incidents occurred in the following weeks. We will continue to monitor developments and keep members informed.
At a training seminar I sponsored last year, we offered officers and stewards an unusual but very informative class: The seminar included a panel made up of the USPS Eastern Area Manager of Labor Relations, an APWU National Business Agent and an APWU-USPS arbitrator.
The panel addressed the subject, How Arbitration Works, and gave us an opportunity to understand the employer’s slant, the union representative’s view and the arbitrator’s perspective on a variety of subjects, from procedural to substantive issues, ethical practices, witness credibility, cross-examination of witnesses, objections, appropriate remedies, and what constitutes effective, winning advocacy. I have received several requests to schedule similar panels at other union events this year.
An experienced local president told me this course was the best APWU educational seminar he had ever attended because it helped novice and experienced representatives understand each side’s position. The class helped improve the formulation of arguments at the earliest steps of the grievance procedure, he said, with a view that the case may end up before an arbitrator.
I believe that education related to our Collective Bargaining Agreement and our dispute resolution process, particularly arbitration, is the best method of enforcing our contract and is the key to our members getting the full value of the bargain we have struck with the Postal Service.
Headquarter management continues to push the accelerated consolidation of Processing and Distribution Centers around the country. The postal area managers and district managers continue to demonstrate that while they can follow orders from above with enthusiasm, their ability to properly handle the reassignment of displaced workers is lacking in competence and concern for the employees.
While my fellow coordinators, Princella Vogel, Sharyn Stone, Omar Gonzalez and John Dirzius, have experienced the same aggressive approach to downsizing the processing and distribution network, the Eastern Region has been unusually hard hit, with 36 Area Mail Processing consolidations studied and 24 completely implemented (both originating and destinating mail operations were consolidated) and 12 either partially implemented (only originating mail was consolidated) or scheduled for 2014. One is scheduled for 2015.
The following are the AMPs in the Eastern Region by state: Delaware-0, Maryland-5, South Jersey-1, Pennsylvania -12, Western New York-4, West Virginia-8, Virginia-6.
We will continue to fight consolidations that will ultimately weaken the Postal Service and cause hardship for our members.