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Department & Division News

APWU Fights Changes to PS-Form 3971

(This article first appeared in the January-February 2018 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

By Industrial Relations Director Vance Zimmerman

Happy New Year! I hope this finds you having had a wonderful holiday season, spending time with your families and friends, and having had some joyous times leading into 2018. I also want to thank you all. No matter your craft, work location, or job title, you each had an impact on millions of Americans’ holiday season. Because of your hard work, the holidays were brighter due to the gifts, cards, and letters you delivered during the season. I know it is a busy and exhausting season for all of you, but don’t forget what the work you did meant to millions of people.

By now I am sure that many of you have noticed that the USPS has introduced a new version of PS-Form 3971 Request for or Notification of Absence. A change to the form has been made that has a major impact on any member who may be asked to perform union business. On the back of the form there is a new section:

LWOP-Union Official (Required Certification)

By signing this form, I certify that this request is not for the purpose of engaging in partisan politi- cal activity as defined by the Hatch Act and its implementing regulations.

The USPS notified the APWU of this change to the 3971 and to ELM Section 514 late in 2017. These changes resulted from a situation during the 2016 presidential elections. The postal unions regularly use union members on Leave Without Pay (LWOP) for union business in order to help get union supported candidates elected to office.

However, in one location an employee was upset that he had to work some overtime to cover for an employee who was off on LWOP to support the union political efforts. He lodged a complaint and the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel (OSC) investigated and filed formal charges against the Postal Service for alleged violations of the Hatch Act.

Because of this, the USPS was required to create a plan of action and make changes to prevent these alleged violations from occurring again. Part of the plan is to bar USPS employees on LWOP for union business to participate in politically partisan activities, even though the OSC acknowledged that USPS employees may engage in political campaigning and no Hatch Act violations occurred in the unions’ 2016 political campaigning.

The USPS will require certification that members on union LWOP will not engage in partisan activities while on LWOP and the Postal Service intends to use this certification to discipline or prosecute employees for providing false information on the Form 3971 if they engage in partisan political activity while they are on LWOP.

Your union is not taking these changes lightly. These are not fair, reasonable, or equitable. The Postal Service completely ignored their contractual requirement to negotiate changes to the ELM, only provided the APWU one-days’ notice of the change, and ignored decades of past practice regarding the use of LWOP to attend union events that may involve partisan political activity.

In our opinion, this is just another attempt in the current political environment to silence unions and the workers of America in general. We will be initiating a national dispute on this change and are considering other legal actions through the court system, as well as the National Labor Relations Board unfair labor practice charging process.

This isn’t the first time politicians in Washington, D.C. have tried to silence postal employees. In the early 1900s there was a presidential gag order preventing any government employee – especially postal employees – from lobbying Congress for pay and benefit increases. This gag order helped lead to the formation of our pre-cursor union – the United Federation of Post Office Clerks.

The APWU will not allow us to be silenced again! You can read more about this issue and what political activities you are permitted to participate in as a postal employee at https://goo.gl/tJUAkr.