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Mark Dimondstein
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Below is a response by former APWU President William Burrus to a question posed online by a union member. Other questions cover a wide range of topics, from contract enforcement to union governance.

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Question:

When was penalty overtime negotiated and why? I have heard several explanations and have formulated a few of my own, but I would like to know your perspective.

Ralph, Greater Cincinnati (OH) Area Local

President Burrus:

It seems like only yesterday, but it has been more than two decades since the union negotiated penalty pay for excessive overtime.

In the early 1980s, mandatory overtime was rampant, and many APWU members complained bitterly about management’s requirement that they work in excess of 40 hours week after week.

Although some employees eagerly sought overtime opportunities to supplement their income, union leaders recognized that excessive overtime was reducing the employee complement and adversely affecting workers’ health, lifestyle, and morale.

Reducing excessive involuntary overtime became an important union objective, and we negotiated penalty pay during 1984 contract bargaining as a tool to accomplish that goal. We believed that imposing the double-time pay requirement on excessive overtime hours would discourage management from the repeated, ongoing use of mandatory overtime.

Twenty-one years later, we can look back and assess whether penalty pay has achieved its objective.

Following the 1984 agreement, the use of mandatory overtime fell dramatically. (This is true despite the fact that recent hiring freezes have again caused a spike in overtime.)

The APWU leadership is convinced that, on balance, the entitlement to extra pay and the disincentive to management for scheduling excessive overtime have worked in the interest of APWU-represented employees. (Another postal union has adopted a different approach, eliminating penalty pay and allowing its members to work an unlimited number of hours.)

Penalty overtime is often discussed at APWU national conventions, and to date the membership has rejected all efforts to eliminate it. Perhaps future generations will have a different view; if so, the union leadership will be guided by their decision.

Feb. 13, 2006

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