The Road to a New Contract
(This article first appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
The road to contract negotiations has been a long one. The APWU began holding internal weekly meetings in August 2014; the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires May 20, 2015.
Since last summer, craft officers, the vice president, president, staff and I have met dozens of times to review the current contract, convention resolutions, the Joint Contract Interpretation Manual (JCIM), grievances and other material.
We also held four Saturday study sessions with experts in economics, benefits and logistics to brief us on:
- USPS finances;
- Postal product offerings and markets, especially the package market;
- The economy, wages, benefits, and productivity trends;
- Health benefits, including previous USPS contract proposals on the subject, legislative proposals, the USPS health plan for non-career employees, the Affordable Care Act, and options for both employees and employers;
- Postal banking and financial services.
These briefings marked the first time the APWU conducted in-depth study sessions for the full negotiating team.
Let the Games Begin!
In November, when the APWU requested information from the Postal Service for use in negotiations, management demanded that the union pay for the costs related to gathering it.
The APWU had no intention of paying for the material because we hadn’t done so in the past. Furthermore, there is no doubt that management would also use the information we requested – and we didn’t plan to subsidize the Postal Service’s research.
Shortly before negotiations opened, management agreed to waive the fees and committed to fulfilling the requests. We received some of the information in late March and a substantial amount in early April.
In addition to the information we specifically requested from management, the APWU receives a lot of data in periodic reports from the USPS. We also gather information from the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) and other sources. In many cases, we have at least a decade’s worth of data.
Most of the material is not user-friendly, so analyzing it can be very time consuming.
Negotiations in Motion
The main table, where general issues are discussed, will meet 33 times before the final week of negotiations.
Beginning May 15, meetings will be held every day – around-the-clock, if necessary. Management has never previously agreed to so many meetings, so we plan to make the most of it. But we don’t plan to present dozens of proposals at the main table; we are focusing on the most important issues.
In addition to our economic proposals, which cover wages and benefits, these include:
- Retain the 50-mile limit on excessing;
- Eliminate Non-Tradition Full-Time (NTFT) assignments in most offices;
- Work toward an all-career workforce;
- Restore the service standards that were in place in July 2012;
- Expand services;
- End subcontracting;
- Stop consolidations and plant closures;
- Improve safety and health;
- Stop mid-contract work-rule changes (Article 19), and
- Make the grievance-arbitration and discipline procedures more responsive.
We expect management to hit hard when the USPS submits its economic proposals. The Postal Service’s proposals so far include:
- Allow the memo that limits excessing to 50 miles to expire;
- Permit cross-craft assignments, regardless of level or occupation;
- Make it easier for management to subcontract;
- Restrict holiday pay to employees who are in a pay status before and after the holiday;
- Eliminate the policy that permits grievances to be filed “on the clock;”
- Allow quick implementation of time-measurement and work standards;
- Allow PSEs to work in every functional area, and
- Establish a time period in retail operations when management may exceed the maximum number of PSEs otherwise permitted.
Craft Tables, Subcommittees
In addition to discussions at the main table, the crafts are meeting with management separately to discuss items of special interest to them.
The Clerk, Maintenance, and Motor Vehicle Divisions have submitted 10 proposals each, and the Support Services Division has submitted five. Management has submitted three proposals for the Clerk Craft, nine for the Maintenance Craft, five for the Motor Vehicle Craft, and one for Support Services.
The APWU and USPS have agreed to set up 12 subcommittees to work toward agreements on various issues.
Although we do not expect to involve the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) unless there is a failure to reach a voluntary agreement, we are required by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act and the National Labor Relations Act to provide certain notices to FMCS as the expiration of the contract approaches. We sent the second of those notices in late March.
A Good Start, No Illusions
The APWU got off to a good start, but we are under no illusions. We are putting some big issues on the table and insisting that management reverse the course the Postal Service has followed for a number of years.
So far, the bargaining sessions have primarily involved presentations, which is typically a prelude to serious discussion of the issues. As a result, it’s too early to expect real progress. In any negotiation, both sides generally want most of the proposals on the table before they consider movement.
As we revisit proposals we have already presented and get into heavy discussions, I expect the process will be anything but quick or easy.
I remain hopeful that we will get a good contract. However, make no mistake: The Postal Service will resist some of the proposals that are important to the APWU.