Timeline Announced for 'Early Outs
Dates Set for Excluded, Newly Eligible Employees
News Service #5-04, March 30, 2004 | PDF
A timeline for voluntary early retirement has been established for eligible APWU-represented employees who were denied opportunities last year, employees who were offered but declined early retirement last year, as well as newly eligible employees. Management has identified approximately 8,100 workers as eligible.
Statement of Interest packages will be mailed April 16 to eligible, full-time employees, the USPS announced March 30. The packages will be sent to eligible part-time employees May 24.
Employees covered by the IT/ASC Collective Bargaining Agreement are not covered by the timeline. Separate instructions will be issued for them shortly.
Employees who believe they are eligible but do not receive a Statement of Interest packet should contact their personnel offices. "The personnel office must provide a copy of the materials to employees," management guidelines state, as long as the employees are covered by the appropriate pay schedules.
Completing the Package
Interested full-time employees must complete the Statement of Interest packages and return them to USPS headquarters postmarked no later than May 14, 2004; the due date for part-time employees is June 14.
Completing the Statement of Interest letter does not constitute a commitment to retire early, nor is it an application for Voluntary Early Retirement (VER): It will simply prompt employees' personnel offices to validate their eligibility for VER. Employees found to be eligible will then be provided with a VER Offer package. The VER Offer package will include an annuity estimate, a service history report, an Acknowledgement of Irrevocability form, and an application for VER.
The Statement of Interest package will notify employees that completing the form "may result in retirement effective dates of July 31, 2004, or December 31, 2004, or June 30, 2005, with final determination to be based on operational needs." For part-time employees, the effective dates will be Aug. 31, 2004, Dec. 31, 2004, and June 30, 2005.
The actual effective retirement date for individual employees will be included in their VER offer package. VER Offer packages will be delivered to eligible, interested full-time employees no later than June 8, 2004, and to part-time employees no later than July 16, 2004.
Determination of Effective Dates
Guidelines distributed to management in the field indicate that the effective date of July 31, 2004, will be "referred to as the early date for full-time employees," and will be assigned to full-time employees "who can be released because their positions are no longer necessary or internal replacements are ready now."
Aug. 31, 2004, the guidelines continue, will be "referred to as the early date for part-time employees," and will be assigned to part-time employees (including both Part-Time Regulars and Part-Time Flexibles) "who can be released because their positions are no longer necessary or internal replacements are ready now."
Dec. 31, 2004, will be "referred to as the mid-range date," the guidelines indicate, and will be assigned to employees "who cannot be released by the early date because their position is still needed." The guidelines cite Retail Clerks as an example, noting that "internal replacements must be prepared to assume the position responsibilities."
June 30, 2005, will be "the long-range date," and will be assigned to employees "who cannot be released by the early date or the mid-range date because their positions are still needed." The guidelines cite Electronic Technicians as an example, noting that it can take a year or more to prepare an internal replacement to assume the position responsibilities.
The Human Relations and Operations Departments in the field will determine the effective date of retirement for eligible employees from the four dates listed above.
Full-time employees will have a "VER window" of June 14 through July 12, 2004. A VER decision will be irrevocable after 5 p.m. on July 12. For part-time employees, the window is July 26 through Aug. 20, 2004. The VER decision for part timers will become irrevocable on Aug. 20. After the close of the VER window period, each eligible employee who submitted an application for retirement will be sent an Approval Notice.
Congress, White House Clash Over
Responsibility for Retirement Funding
Bush Administration officials and congressional committee leaders clashed sharply over two key issues during the final public hearing before the expected drafting of postal reform legislation. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow differed with Republicans and Democrats on March 23 at a joint hearing of the House Government Reform and Senate Governmental Affairs committees on measures many lawmakers believe are crucial to stabilizing the Postal Service.
One issue is the White House insistence that the Postal Service pay for retirement benefits accrued by USPS employees during their service in the armed forces, an amount valued at $27 billion to be paid out over time.
The second involves the Administration opposition to releasing to the Postal Service in Fiscal Year 2006 about $3 billion in USPS pension-payment savings being held in a Treasury Department escrow account.
Both points of contention are the result of a law passed last year that relieved the Postal Service from overfunding its pension contributions for workers covered by the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS). Savings from the law allowed the Postal Service to reduce its debt to the Treasury and to avoid a rate increase through fiscal year 2005.
An addition to the law, however, required the Postal Service to place those savings in an escrow account beginning in fiscal year 2006. The law also required the Postal Service to assume responsibility for retirement benefits that employees earned during military service.
Budget Deficit Concerns
The Bush Administration opposes changes to those provisions, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow said, because they would increase the federal deficit that the Treasury must report under budget accounting rules. "If these monies were allowed to flow out, they would be charged to the deficit," he said. "That's the basic issue."
"It's phony baloney," declared House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA). "It seems more honest to say these are postal dollars and we're going to release them and let the chips fall where they may." The funds should not be used, he said, "to mask the deficit."
Noting that virtually no other private business or government agencies are forced to pay for military pensions, several lawmakers and other witnesses urged the Administration to change course. "The Postal Service cannot and must not bear the military service retirement payment obligations," said Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-IL.)
Returning responsibility for the military retirement payments to the Treasury and releasing the escrow funds are considered important measures to help stabilize USPS finances. Releasing the escrow fund would allow the Postal Service to avoid a 5.4 percent postage rate increase, Postmaster General John E. Potter testified.
Shifting the pension funding responsibility and releasing the escrow account are among the few proposals made by the President's Commission on the U.S. Postal Service that are supported by the mailing industry, the USPS, consumer groups, and postal unions. "The Administration is a pretty lonely voice on those two issues," observed Senate Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins (R-ME).
Collins, Davis, and other key members of the congressional committees pressed Snow and the Administration to reconsider both issues, indicating they would attempt to release the escrow funds and shift the military pension obligation back to the Treasury when they craft legislation. But Snow held firm, suggesting that the Postal Service find "greater efficiencies" and perhaps phase in additional rate increases.
With no obvious solution in sight, both sides pledged to try to find additional spending "offsets" in the federal budget that could render both postal relief measures "deficit neutral" and eliminate what could become an important barrier for postal reform legislation.
In other testimony at the joint hearing, Potter advocated making healthcare and retirement benefits "negotiable" for new employees.
Speaking after the hearing, APWU President William Burrus derided the Postmaster General's proposal. "This is nothing more than an attempt to reduce the health and retirement benefits of postal workers," he said. "We will do everything in our power to prevent those recommendations from becoming reality."
Board of Governors Chairman David Fineman urged lawmakers to give the Postal Service more flexibility in deciding to close or consolidate plants and post offices. The Postal Service "must be allowed to implement infrastructure changes including - but not limited to - changes in the number and location of post offices and processing plants, and changes in our transportation networks," he said.
Burrus renewed his call to local unions, urging them to contact elected officials regarding legislative proposals. "APWU members must let lawmakers know what issues are important to us," he said.
"We oppose limits on collective bargaining; we oppose the creation of a Postal Regulatory Board with the power to set postal rates and wages; we oppose limits on the health and retirement benefits currently enjoyed by active and retired postal workers; and we oppose shuttering plants and post office without community input," he said.
"We have been vocal critics of unfair rate-setting policies that benefit some very large mailers at the expense of consumers and small businesses," Burrus noted, adding, "Legislation must include a prohibition on all outsourcing that exceeds the costs avoided by the Postal Service."
Expressing the union's support for returning responsibility for military pensions to the federal government and releasing the escrow fund, Burrus said, "Taken together, the proper handling of the retirement account and escrow issue is a litmus test for reform. Any party that is seriously interested in securing the future of the Postal Service must embrace these proposals."
'Sunday Premium' Dispute Resolved
In a national pre-arbitration settlement, the USPS and the APWU resolved a long-standing dispute concerning the Postal Service's refusal to pay Sunday premium to employees on Continuation of Pay (COP), or on court or military leave, as well as employees who were denied Sunday premium after winning back pay in arbitration or through a grievance settlement.
The agreement will compensate affected employees who have been improperly denied Sunday premium from February 2000 to the present.
The Postal Service will review payroll records and compensate employees accordingly. In addition, the settlement requires it to provide to APWU local presidents and regional coordinators a list of those employees. Employees who believe they are entitled to back pay need not do anything to be compensated. Anyone who is entitled to back pay and whose name does not appear, however, should contact a local representative for referral to the national Administrative Dispute Resolution Process (ADRP).
The Sunday-premium dispute arose in 2000, when the Postal Service notified the union that it was making changes to Chapter 430 of the Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM). The USPS said it was making revisions to conform to restrictions contained in the 1999 Treasury and General Appropriations Act, which prohibited the use of appropriated funds to pay Sunday premium for hours not actually worked.
The union pointed out that because wages and benefits are negotiated through collective bargaining, the federal law does not apply to APWU-represented workers.
The settlement requires the Postal Service to rescind ELM changes made in 2000 and restore the provisions and administrative practices that were in effect prior to that. The parties also agreed that pursuant to Article 8.6 of the National Agreement, employees whose regular work schedules include a period of service at any time on Sunday shall be paid the premium for each hour of work on that tour.
The settlement provides that any employee improperly denied Sunday premium from February 2000 to the present shall receive payment at the then-current rate for the premium not paid. Moreover, as specified in the language to be restored to the ELM, Sunday premium to which employees normally are entitled will be continued while they are in a COP status, on military leave, or on court leave.
Grievances currently pending on this specific subject will be resolved in accordance with the settlement. If the parties are unable to reach agreement, such grievance(s) will be removed from the grievance/arbitration procedure and forwarded to the ADRP.
APWU Files Grievance Over 'Interactive Voice Response' System
The APWU has initiated a national-level dispute over the Postal Service's unilateral implementation of the Interactive Voice Recognition (IVR) system to handle unscheduled leave requests.
Under this system, employees who are unable to report to work due to unexpected illnesses, injuries, or emergencies are required to use the "enterprise Resource Management System" (eRMS) speech application to make their requests. A machine takes the calls and prompts the employees to answer or "key in" responses.
The machine then sends e-mails to management to process the leave information. Decisions regarding leave approval, documentation requirements, and the FMLA, however, will continue to be made by the appropriate management official in accordance with existing handbooks, manuals and published regulations.
The APWU contends that some of the Postal Service's new rules are inconsistent with and violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement and applicable law. The national-level dispute provides a detailed explanation of the APWU position and concerns regarding the application of the IVR/eRMS. It is available on the Industrial Relations page at www.apwu.org.
Bulk Mail Center Conference
The APWU Bulk Mail Center Conference is set for June 6-7, in Pittsburgh, at the Sheraton Station Square Hotel.
The APWU Maintenance Department has negotiated a room rate of $130 (plus 14 percent tax) for single or double occupancy. To secure the guaranteed rate, call in reservations to the Sheraton (412-261-2000) no later than May 17. Be sure to identify yourself as a participant in the APWU BMC Conference.
Attendees should return a conference registration form to BMC Coodinator Idowu Balogun by May 2. The form is available on the Calendar of Events page for June at www.apwu.org.
There will be pre-conference activities at the hotel on Saturday, June 5.