Contract Breaks - (winter 2006)
As I travel through the stations just about on a daily basis, I've noticed that many stations have opted to take their AM break prior to leaving for the street. I often have the opportunity to show up when it is break time or just as the supervisor announces the ten minute break. I have also noticed that there are many carriers that do not take the break and continue to work during the ten minute period allotted for the break. The two rest breaks were negotiated about twenty-eight years ago because; it was argued by the NALC that letter carriers could use a ten minute respite from casing or delivering mail. The fact of the matter is that when an office break is announced, all carriers are to stop and observe the break. Carriers do not have an option as to whether or not to take the break. The National Agreement is negotiated by the National Association of Letter Carriers and the United States Postal Service and a letter carrier and a supervisor in a particular station cannot agree to violate or rewrite any provisions in the agreement. There is no such thing as "we mutually agree" when it violates or
circumvents the contract. The only other valid agreement would be the 22 items identified in Article 30 which provides for the parties to negotiate a Local Memorandum of Understanding.
Similar argument can also be made for the 30 minute meal period that is built into each working day. A letter carrier's work day is eight and one half hours long. Carriers are not paid for the half hour designated as a meal period, yet carriers will offer the same excuses for not taking a lunch, "I have too much mail" or "I have overtime and I want to get done". The right to a meal period is guaranteed by labor laws and the right to rest breaks is guaranteed by the National Agreement. In reference to meal periods, the law basically states that no employer may require an employee to work more than 6 hours without a meal period. Simply put, if an employee wants to eat, the employer must allow him/her to eat not more than 6 hours from when they start working. You must also be aware that when you fail to take breaks, you actually distort the true value of the route, because management does not indicate that you worked through your breaks, and the computer only shows that you completed your assignment on time.
On the subject of agreements, the present one expires on November 21, 2006 and our national officers are engaged in contract talks in the hopes of reaching an agreement as of that date. It goes without saying that we hope to secure a decent wage package which includes cost of living adjustments. Just as important
would be some provisions pertaining to work methods concerning DPS and DOIS. At this point it is safe to say that DPS has not been all that it was projected and has not lived up to the expectations. Management still continues to utter those famous words "DPS does not count". As if DPS mail wasn't enough to complicate an otherwise simple task of casing and delivering mail, then along came DOIS. Now here is a real figment of someone's imagination; supervisors with practically no time on the job are telling 25 and 30 year veterans how to deliver mail and how long it should take based on what some computer program indicates, when did computers go out on the street and deliver mail? I would once again tell letter carriers to refrain from arguing or debating management, simply fill out and submit form 3996 and request an approximate amount of time that you deem necessary to complete your assignment and be sure to ask for a copy of the form and retain it for your records.
Just a word of caution, let me remind you that if the present agreement does expire, all the provisions will remain in effect with the exception of the article dealing with wages. No doubt some supervisor will tell you that because the contract expired they can do what they want. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As this paper reaches your homes the Thanksgiving holiday has just been completed.
Christmas and New Year's are just around the corner and I want to take this opportunity to wish you and your families the happiest and healthiest of holiday seasons.
It Just Doesn’t Add Up
As a shop steward for about six years I filed a variety of grievances for the members that I represented. Some of the grievances were for discipline issued to the carrier and some were for contract violations. In the early years under the old grievance arbitration procedure employees were subject to actual time off suspensions, seven days and fourteen days were standard issue, unless the employee was issued a notice of removal. There was a time when any and all grievances in Brooklyn were systematically denied at the various steps of the procedure and would eventually be heard by an arbitrator. In many cases the discipline was either rescinded or modified and the employee was paid back the time that they lost during the suspension. Many advocates for the service would always quote the same line "let an arbitrator give them back pay". There were certain notices of discipline, some 14 day suspensions and some notices of removal that were so poorly written and documented that they should have never gone to arbitration. These individuals were awarded full back pay and in essence were actually given a paid vacation by the service simply because the advocates were instructed not to settle these cases. Several cases were removals and at that time it would take about twelve to fifteen months to get an arbitration date. This was due primarily to the amount of cases that were backed up in the system because of rubber stamping the grievances denied. The arbitrator awarded full back pay and these particular employees were restored to full duty with full back pay, including any over time that they may have been entitled to.
The service was just wasting time and money by forcing these cases to a full hearing. I don't mean to say that this was true for all discipline that was issued, however some of these cases were ridiculous and when one did the math, it just didn't add up. This trend continued for quite some time until several changes were made in Human Resources. Over the past several years various new programs were introduced by both parties in an effort to reduce the amount of grievances being filed and the discipline being issued. For the most part these programs were somewhat successful. A program entitled LISTEN (Letters in Lieu of Suspensions to Emphasize Needed improvement) was implemented in the Brooklyn Post Office. Discipline was greatly reduced for the first six months; however discipline eventually arose to its usual level, the only difference being that all suspensions were on paper and not actual time served.
As the Chief Steward for the branch I saw the same trend when grievances were filed for contract violations. The most common grievances were for violations of Article 8 and 11 dealing with overtime and holiday work. Management repeatedly assigned overtime to carriers who did not sign up for the overtime list. When it comes to preparing work schedules for holidays, the language in the National Agreement and the Local Memorandum is clear and concise, yet management continues to bypass or ignore this language which in turn leads to the filing of grievances. In many cases the carrier(s) end up being at higher rate of pay or in some cases a carrier will be paid in lieu of work for the entire day in question, when you stop and figure it all out, it just doesn't add up.
Recently the service and the union entered into a joint venture by publishing and distributing the Joint Contract Administration Manual, more commonly referred to as the JCAM. Both parties agreed to the interpretation of the provisions in the contract and reduced it to language that made it easy for all to understand and apply. There should be no guessing, or misinterpretation as to the language contained in the JCAM, yet in many cases management sees fit to interpret certain provisions to what they feel or want to believe is fact. Bottom line, a grievance is filed, the grievance is sustained and the carrier is paid in lieu of work, it just doesn't add up. No doubt the Postal Service will fight us tooth and nail at the bargaining table, if only we could get them to stop wasting money on grievances that are repeated over and over again, it could means a few more dollars in the budget for collective bargaining, it just doesn't add up. To all our members and friends Season's Greetings and a Prosperous New Year.