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Department & Division News

Looking Back, Going Forward After a Year of Progress

(This article first appeared in the January-February 2016 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Welcome to 2016! I trust all members had a safe and prosperous holiday period.

As we begin 2016, I would like to share a short review of the progress we made in 2015. The Industrial Relations Department has been successful in many areas and will continue to advance the desires and needs of the membership going forward in 2016. My department will continue to work hard, while we continue to fight for a Collective Bargaining Agreement the members can live with.

During the course of the year, my staff revised the Step 4 Case Support system (CAS 4). The CAS 4 system maintains the log of national-level arbitration cases. By revamping the system, we have been able to distinguish craft cases from general issues and we are able to resolve issues at a much faster pace than in the past. This has enabled us to reach out to the crafts for assistance resolving their issues or advancing the cases to arbitration quicker.

Since taking office one of my goals has been to reduce our grievance backlog by arbitrating more cases at the national level and in the field.

Since 2013, we scheduled and arbitrated approximately 30 national cases. We also intervened in approximately 23 national cases advanced by our sister postal unions to ensure that the outcome didn’t infringe on our members’ rights. The national-level cases have won our members in excess of approximately $75 million and provided clear contract language for the future.

The Industrial Relations Department fought to have massive reviews in the field that led to thousands of cases being settled all over the country, thereby reducing the grievance backlog from approximately 35,000 cases when I took office to approximately 26,000 – a reduction of 9,000 cases, or 26 percent.

I negotiated and implemented the strategy where teams from management and the union targeted areas with a high volume of grievances. This afforded us an opportunity to resolve discipline cases and ensure that our members’ cases were heard more quickly. With the cooperation of the craft officers, a few National Business Agents came to APWU headquarters to review our national cases and reduce the backlog during contract negotiations. I would like to give special thanks to Jimmie Waldon, Pam Richardson, Nancy Olumekor, Rachael Walthall, Willie Mellon, Christine Pruitt, Vance Zimmerman, and Steve Lukosus.

Electronic Grievance System: We have expanded the Electronic Grievance System (EGS) with the assistance of Assistant Maintenance Craft Director Idowu Balogun and our EGS committee. The committee has provided training and tech support for all EGS users and will continue to do so as the program develops. The EGS is the future of protecting the union members’ grievances and the union as we move forward.

APWU/USPS Grievance Enhancement Reduction Procedure: The APWU/USPS Grievance Enhancement and Reduction Procedure (AUGER) is a new initiative I negotiated with management in 2014, which is being rolled out in 14 districts throughout the country. AUGER is designed to give local leaders more control, the ability to resolve most cases at the local level and allow them to maintain control of the grievance process at the earliest steps. In the AUGER program, if the parties are unable to resolve an issue they are required to jointly develop the case file before it is appealed to Step 3. The primary goal is to resolve grievances at the lowest step and to have cases heard after appeal to arbitration in 120 days.

Joint Arbitration Scheduling System: The Industrial Relations Department also created a JASS Advisory Council to improve the Joint Arbitration Scheduling System (JASS). The council meets quarterly with the Industrial Relations Department and the Postal Service to address issues involving the JASS process and provide input about how to have arbitration cases heard more quickly.

A National Business Agent from each area was selected to assist me on this council, because they know first-hand the issues they face every day. In 2016, we are looking forward to making JASS better than ever.

Lastly, I would like to mention tools that are available to our local leaders but that are not being used to their full potential. Many locals and states use these tools but it is my intent to increase participation to 100%.

Safety and Local Labor/Management Meetings: Tools that should be used at the local level and that can assist us greatly are Labor-Management meetings and Safety and Health Committee meetings. Management is required to attend these meetings and holding them on a regular basis helps us to hold the Postal Service accountable. Minutes should be taken at these meetings; documentation should be requested, and information should be recorded. All should be sent to my office. The information you provide will give us the documentation at the national level to build our case when we prepare our agenda for the same meetings at our level.

National Labor / Management Meetings: As a long-time advocate of Labor-Management meetings and as the responsible party at the national level for these meetings, I recently requested the first National Labor Management meeting since 1999. These meetings are important because they will bring senior operations managers to the table to try to resolve major issues that affect our members. Beginning now, this will be a regular occurrence as per our contract and we trust the meetings will bring about results. I will keep you posted.

Many of the projects discussed above will continue in the new year, and we will apply the same vigor and intensity in 2016 that we placed on them in 2015.

As the Industrial Relations Director, I will continue to ensure that all processes are transparent so you, the members, are able to understand the many moving parts of the IR Department. As this year brings on new challenges, I will strive to continue improving the quality of life for our members.