Arbitrator Rules: Excessed Employees Must Meet Minimum Qualifications Before Reassignment
07/01/2014 - The APWU won an important arbitration award on June 24, when Arbitrator Stephen B. Goldberg ruled that the Postal Service must determine – prior to excessing employees across craft lines – that the employees meet the minimum qualifications for the new position.
The APWU filed a national-level dispute on July 24, 2012, because the Postal Service had been reassigning excess employees in APWU crafts into positions, often Letter Carrier positions, for which they did not meet the minimum qualifications. Under Article 12 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, excess workers in APWU crafts may only be reassigned into positions for which they meet minimum qualifications. Minimum qualifications are set by official Qualification Standards for the position in question. The National Association of Letter Carriers intervened in the case on the side of the APWU.
When the dispute arose, the Postal Service had been reassigning employees without driver’s licenses into positions that require driver’s licenses. In many instances, employees who had physical conditions that made it impossible for them to carry mail or walk a Letter Carrier route were being excessed into Letter Carrier positions. Official Letter Carrier Qualification Standards require that a Letter Carrier be able to perform work that requires “arduous exertion, prolonged standing, walking, bending and reaching, and may involve handling heavy containers of mail weighing up to the allowable maximum mailing weight.” Letter carriers may be required to carry mail weighing up to 35 pounds and may be required to load or unload containers of mail weighing up to 70 pounds.
At arbitration, the Postal Service conceded that where the qualification standards for a position include a driver’s license and a safe driving record, the Postal Service cannot excess a person who cannot drive into that position. But the Postal Service continued to argue that the physical qualifications stated in the Qualification Standards for Letter Carriers were not part of the minimum qualifications an excess worker must meet to be reassigned into a Letter Carrier position. In rejecting the Postal Service’s argument, the arbitrator relied on the language of Article 12 and on the parties’ Joint Contract Interpretation Manual (JCIM). The JCIM makes it clear that minimum qualifications are determined by official Qualification Standards.
The arbitrator also rejected a Postal Service argument that it might be forced to violate the Rehabilitation Act if it is contractually prevented from reassigning an employee into a Letter Carrier job because they have a physical disability. As the arbitrator observed, the parties have a Memorandum of Understanding that applies in the case of workers who already hold light- or limited-duty assignments.
The arbitrator also rejected testimony provided by the Postal Service that the USPS never had treated physical qualification as part of the minimum qualifications for a position, citing testimony and documentary evidence provided by the APWU showing that physical qualifications in Qualification Standards are among the minimum qualifications that must be met before someone is reassigned across craft lines.
As a remedy, the arbitrator ordered the Postal Service to make whole all employees and former employees adversely affected by the violations in question based upon the July 24, 2012, filing of this dispute. The arbitrator retained jurisdiction to resolve any questions related to the make-whole remedy that the parties are unable to resolve.