AUGER: APWU/ USPS Grievance Enhancement and Reduction
(This article first appeared in the March-April 2016 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
You may have heard about a new grievance-arbitration program that is being tested in several areas around the country. The program, known as AUGER (APWU/USPS Grievance Enhancement and Reduction), is not a modified process like those that have existed through the years; it’s really just a re-affirmation of the language in Article 15 of the contract.
The program had its roots in South Florida in the early 2000s, when the Broward County Area Local used it to great success, reducing the arbitration backlog to next to nothing – until the USPS backed out of the process due to the success the local was having.
Later, the program resurfaced at the USPS headquarters level when it was rolled out with the National Postal Mail Handlers Union as MAPS. It too had, and continues to have, great success. In 2013, it was piloted in the Suncoast District (Tampa area) in the Clerk Craft, still known as MAPS.
In the two years since the roll-out in the Suncoast District, the arbitration backlog has gone from over 600 cases pending arbitration to less than 100. Also, the grievance appeals from Step 2 to Step 3 and direct appeals to arbitration have been reduced by over 50 percent.
After taking office as Director of Industrial Relations, I looked into the problem of arbitration backlogs nationwide, as well as the enormous number of cases that were being appealed from Step 2. I knew something had to change, and AUGER looked like something worth further investigation.
As stated above, AUGER does not change Article 15. In merely enhances it.
Under Article 15, the parties are supposed to investigate cases at Step 1, request relevant and necessary information, and obtain any other documents, statements, etc. that are necessary to prove the existence of a grievance. The same is true with AUGER.
Joint Grievance File
I realize that for many years, in most places Step 1 meetings have usually ended with management issuing rubber-stamp denials. But with AUGER, pressure will be on both parties to do their jobs so cases are properly documented if they have to be appealed to Step 2.
The parties at Step 2 will be the ones to ensure that the Step 1 parties do their jobs. They, too, will meet as they always have, but hopefully they will have better files to work with.
At the Step 2 meeting, the parties will exchange all documents and evidence as usual. If the grievance still can’t be resolved, the parties will create a Joint Grievance File (JGF). The JGF will be comprised of all the documents and evidence submitted by both parties. The parties will each identify the documents to be included in the file, and they will number the pages so that there is no dispute as to what is included in the file, thus saving the advocates from that argument at Step 3 or arbitration.
The parties do not have to agree to what the other side is submitting. They just identify what is included in the file, and can challenge the relevance of the other side’s submission in either management’s Step 2 decision letter or in the additions and corrections the union may submit after it receives management’s decision.
Once the file is appealed to Step 3 or arbitration, the parties meet, and if the grievance is not resolved, they too can each add documents to the file. Once a decision is issued and any union additions and corrections are written, the file is “sealed.”
From that point on, the grievance file is considered final and cannot be added to or expanded beyond that point. The JGF then awaits either a pre-arb review or arbitration.
Another key element of AUGER is that both parties must adhere to the Article 15 time limits. Again, this is not anything new. It is just an enforcement of the existing contractual language in Article 15.
But it is a major key to the process. If the USPS representatives at Step 1 or Step 2 refuse to meet, the union should appeal to grievance to the next step, in accordance with the Article 15 time limits. Management then misses the opportunity to add their documents or evidence to the file.
If they fail to meet at Step 2 or provide a Step 2 decision, then the APWU Step 2 Designee simply identifies the union’s documents and evidence, numbers the pages, and follows the contractual appeal process.
What helps make the process work is that the parties at Step 2 force the parties at Step 1 to do their jobs of properly documenting the cases, and the parties at Step 3 do the same to those at Step 2. The pressure runs downhill.
Again, this is nothing new. It is what is already required by Article 15. This downhill pressure is what helps reduce the number of grievances being appealed up the line in the first place. The USPS Step 2 designees are not going to want to do all the work of researching a grievance. They will start forcing the Step 1 supervisors to do their jobs.
Does this work overnight? No, of course not. But given a short amount of time, it does work.
If the USPS representatives don’t do their job it helps us, as only our documents and evidence will be in the files and their arbitration advocates won’t be able to “build a file” the day before an arbitration hearing. The file will be what it is, without them trying to add all kinds of new evidence and arguments.
This program is being rolled out in the Suncoast District in all crafts, as well as in South Florida, Gulf-Atlantic, Atlanta, South Carolina, Mid-Carolina, Greensboro, Dallas, Fort Worth, Sierra-Nevada, and Chicago. I will be meeting with local leaders in the Northern Ohio Districts this year to discuss possible implementation.
As you can see, we are working on all fronts to get justice for our members. I will keep you updated as to our progress.