Interim Decision Received,
Further Court Action Expected by Early 2004
Burrus Update #24-03, Nov. 7, 2003
In a preliminary decision, U.S. District Court Judge Reggie B. Walton denied the APWU's motion to compel the Postal Service to immediately arbitrate our grievances over the Voluntary Early Retirement (VER) program. Still pending before the court is the APWU's request that the court order the Postal Service to submit the parties' dispute over VERA to arbitration.
"So that employees who are entitled to take early retirement are afforded this option before the VERA closing date," Walton wrote, "the Court will endeavor to decide the defendant's motion to dismiss by January 2, 2004." The Postal Service has taken the position that the dispute is not subject to arbitration.
In reaching its conclusion, the court relied on the fact that the Postal Service's VER authority extends until Dec. 31, 2004, and that employees' rights would not be impaired until that authority expires. (When the union filed its petition to compel arbitration, the Postal Service's authority to grant voluntary early retirement was set to expire Sept. 30.)
Walton's decision postpones for two months the question of whether the court will compel arbitration of our dispute with the Postal Service over the VER program. The judge wrote that if he ultimately orders arbitration of the dispute, he will reconsider the union's request to order expedited arbitration.
In response to the APWU's complaint that members are being denied the right to take VER and need immediate relief, the court concluded:
"Although the plaintiff's concern may be legitimate, there is nothing in the record that supports its claim that immediate intervention by the Court is compelled to protect its members from irreparable harm. As the Court already stated, the Postal Service has VER authority for approximately another 14 months. And the plaintiff has failed to establish that its members would suffer irreparable harm by not being permitted to exercise the early retirement option immediately.
"While an individual may suffer irreparable harm if he or she is precluded from ever being able to exercise the option to retire early pursuant to a VER, there is absolutely nothing in the record which establishes that this will occur without immediate judicial intervention or that one of APWU's members is actually suffering such harm now as a result of not being able to exercise the option immediately."
The APWU argued that any further delay in ordering arbitration might mean that arbitration could not be concluded in time to provide access to VER by Dec. 31, 2004. The court held that this contention was "grounded principally upon speculation regarding how long it will take to have this dispute arbitrated if the Court fails to order expedited arbitration."
Finally, because he hopes to decide the merits of the case by Jan. 2, 2004, the judge ordered the APWU to submit its brief on the merits of the underlying suit to compel arbitration no later than Nov. 21, 2003, and ordered the Postal Service to file its reply by Dec. 5, 2003.