(This article first appeared in the July-August issue of The American Postal Worker Magazine)
With half of 2016 gone, we have concluded our national contract negotiations, mediations and interest arbitration and you should be reviewing the arbitrator’s award.
As the director of Industrial Relations and chair of the Negotiations Committee, I am very pleased with the effort our team exerted in our fight to secure a contract. Throughout negotiations and mediation, which began in 2015, we never lost focus on what we gave up in 2010 in an effort to protect this national treasure, the USPS. We began the process understanding we were going to be in for an uphill battle since the previous contract was negotiated and the concessions given were voluntary.
However, we also wanted to change direction and stop the race to the bottom. That is why we ended up fighting for more than a year for a fair contract. During that time we still had to manage the union grievances and as the director, I took the lead on several issues.
Normally during contract negotiations, the parties agree to a moratorium on hearing arbitration cases. We discussed this and agreed that we would continue to arbitrate cases while we were in negotiations. If we had accepted a moratorium on national-level arbitrations as the USPS requested, we would have held no arbitrations from December 2014 to June 2016. We would have not been successful in negotiating the $56 million settlement for managerial personnel performing Clerk Craft duties in small offices, the E-WHEP case in the Maintenance Craft, and the Motor Vehicle case that was pivotal in stopping management from contracting out – for now. This is just a short list of the very significant cases that we were able to resolve because of our tenacious attitude of representing you, the members.
When we began the process of Interest Arbitration in February 2016, the Postal Service again requested a moratorium. We discussed the request in great detail to determine if we were interested. Our desire was to continue to arbitrate cases. We made it clear that absent the president telling us we would have a moratorium, we were prepared to go to arbitration. This posture provided the president the opportunity to negotiate a four-month moratorium with an agreement that representatives of the Postal Service with authority to settle cases would meet with the craft directors and me to discuss settling disputes. As such, we were able to secure multiple signoffs during those four months.
Again, this was based on our willingness to go to arbitration. When the presentation of the contract arbitration ended, we again began scheduling national-level cases.
The Sales Retention case, which deals with the length of time management pilot programs can last, was scheduled for June 30 and July 1 before Arbitrator Stephen Goldberg. We participated in tripartite arbitration with the Mail Handlers Union over the staffing of the Small Parcel Bundle Sorter (SPSS) on June 15 and 16; the case will resume in September.
My goal is to have a minimum of three national-level arbitrations per month and/or pre-arbitration reviews to further reduce the caseload at the national level. Most importantly, my goal is to get closure on many of the issues that have been lingering for much too long.
Justice Delayed, Justice Denied
An issue that we have seen spiral out of control is one that touches the very core of our union. Members who are in the unfortunate position of being terminated or suspended are being harmed considerably – along with their families – when the USPS violates Article 15 of the contract, which states in part, “after appeal to arbitration the case will be heard in 120 days.” This language was agreed upon, in my humble opinion, to avoid economic death to a member accused of an infraction but not yet found guilty.
The 120-day language applies to all cases appealed to arbitration; however, the damage to union members who are out far past 120 days is substantial.
This, to me, is a grave injustice to our members who file grievances. Many times they retire without a hearing or receiving closure. This is true for contract issues as well, but it is more important to those who are subjected to months and sometime years on removal before their cases are heard. I am adamant that the Postal Service must adhere to this language.
Many times members are removed and it takes one, two, three or more years to get them justice. This is not right, nor should it continue. We must draw a line in the sand and do better by our members. They have a right to a speedy day in court.
I am committed by my action of implementing the AUGER (APWU/USPS Grievance Enhancement and Reduction) program that reinforces the 120-day period in the contract. (You can review AUGER process on our website.) The time is now to demand the USPS adhere to the contract. More important, I am of the opinion that if the Postal Service cannot meet the 120-day window, then all removed employees whose cases are not heard within 120 days should be returned to work so they can earn income for their family until adjudication of their hearing.
It is not fair, nor reasonable for union members to be punished before they have their day in court. No arbitration “remedy” that provides back pay can make you “whole” if you have lost your family, your reputation, your credit standing, and your dignity.
Additionally, the benefit for the USPS is that the liability for management would be only 120 days if they lost a case, which, in my opinion, would result in cost savings. I believe the 120-day window was created to avoid imposing a hardship on members and to limit the Postal Service’s liability. Adherence to this contract language is something the USPS should embrace.
The time is now to correct what has been a grave injustice to you, the member. I will be advocating this position from headquarters. I trust the USPS will see the error of their ways. What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? NOW!