• The right to investigate and adjust grievances and problems that may become grievances;
• The right to paid time to conduct those activities;
• The right to obtain management information;
• Superseniority concerning being involuntarily transferred;
• An employee’s right to steward representation during an Inspection Service interrogation.
Steward Rights—Activities Included.
A steward may conduct a broad range of activities related to the investigation and adjustment of grievances and of problems that may become grievances. These activities include the right to review relevant documents, files and records, as well as interviewing a potential grievant, supervisors and witnesses. Specific settlements and arbitration decisions have established that a steward has the right to do (among other things) the following:
• Complete grievance forms and write appeals on the clock (see below).
• Interview witnesses, including postal patrons who are off postal premises; National Arbitrator Aaron N8N-A-0219 November 10, 1980 (C-03219); Step 4, H1N-3U-C 13115, March 4, 1983 (M- 01001); Step 4, H8N-4J-C 22660, May 15, 1981 (M-00164);
• Interview supervisors; Step 4, H7N-3Q-C 31599, May 20, 1991 (M- 00988);
• Interview postal inspectors; Management Letter, March 10, 1981 (M- 00225);
• Review relevant documents; Step 4, H4N-3W-C 27743, May 1, 1987 (M- 00837);
• Review an employee’s Official Personnel Folder when relevant; Step 4, NC-E 2263, August 18, 1976 (M-00104);
• Write the union statement of corrections and additions to the Formal Step A decision; Step 4, A8-S-0309, December 7, 1979 (M-01145). A steward has the right to conduct all such activities on the clock (see below).
Right to Steward Time on the Clock.
Although a steward must ask for supervisory permission to leave his or her work area or enter another one to pursue a grievance or potential grievance, management cannot “unreasonably deny” requests for paid grievance-handling time. Management may not determine in advance how much time a steward reasonably needs to investigate a grievance. National Arbitrator Garrett, MB-NAT-562/MB-NAT-936, January 19, 1977 (C-427). Rather, the determination of how much time is considered reasonable is dependent on the issue involved and the amount of information needed for investigation purposes. (Step 4, NC-S-2655, October 20, 1976, M-00671).
Steward time to discuss a grievance may not be denied solely because a steward is in overtime status (Prearbitration Settlement, W4N-5C-C 41287, September 13, 1988, M-00857). It is the responsibility of the union and management to decide mutually when the steward will be allowed, subject to business conditions, an opportunity to investigate and adjust grievances. (Step 4, N-S-2777, April 5, 1973, M-00332) If management delays a steward from investigating a grievance, it should inform the steward of the reasons for the delay and when time will be available. Likewise, the steward has an obligation to request additional time and give the reasons why it is needed. (Step 4, NC-C 16045, November 22, 1978, M-00127) An employee must be given reasonable time to consult with his or her steward, and such reasonable time may not be measured by a predetermined factor. (Step 4, H1C-3W-C 44345, May 9, 1985, M-00303)
Although Article 17.4 provides that the grievant and a steward shall be paid for time actually spent in grievance handling and meetings with management, there are no contractual provisions requiring the payment of travel time or expenses in connection with attendance at a Formal Step A meeting. (Step 4, N8-S-0330, June 18, 1980, M-00716) Nor does the National Agreement require the payment of a steward who accompanies an employee to a medical facility for a fitness-for-duty examination. (Step 4 Settlement, NC-N-12792, December 13, 1978, M-00647)
The appropriate remedy in a case where management has unreasonably denied a steward time on the clock is an order or agreement to cease and desist, plus payment to the steward for the time spent processing the grievance off-the-clock which should have been paid time.
Right to Information.
The NALC’s rights to information relevant to collective bargaining and to contract administration are set forth in Article 31. This section states stewards’ specific rights to review and obtain documents, files and other records, in addition to the right to interview a grievant, supervisors and witnesses. Steward requests to review and obtain documents should state how the request is relevant to the handling of a grievance or potential grievance. Management should respond to questions and to requests for documents in a cooperative and timely manner. When a relevant request is made, management should provide for review and/or produce the requested documentation as soon as is reasonably possible.
A steward has a right to obtain supervisors’ personal notes of discussions held with individual employees in accordance with Article 16.2 if the notes have been made part of the employee’s Official Personnel Folder or if they are necessary to processing a grievance or determining whether a grievance exists. (See Mittenthal H8N-3W-C 20711, February 16, 1982, C-03230; Step 4, NC-S 10618, October 8, 1978, M-00106; Step 4, G90N-4G-C 93050025, February 23, 1994, M-01190)
The Weingarten rule does not applyto other types of meetings, such as:
• Discussions. Article 16.2 provides that “for minor offenses by an employee ... discussions ... shall be held in private between the employee and the supervisor. Such discussions are not discipline and are not grievable.” So an employee does not have Weingarten representation rights during an official discussion. See National Arbitrator Aaron, H1T-1E-C 6521, January 6, 1983, C-03769.
• Employees do not have the right to union representation during fitness- for-duty physical examinations. The Weingarten rule applies only,/b> when the meeting is an investigatory interview—when management is searching for facts and trying to determine the employee’s guilt or decide whether or not to impose discipline. The rule does not apply when management calls in a carrier for the purpose of issuing disciplinary action—for example, handing the carrier a letter of warning.
An employee has Weingarten representation rights only where he or she reasonably believes that discipline could result from the investigatory interview. Whether or not an employee’s belief is “reasonable” depends on the circumstances of each case. Some cases are obvious, such as when a supervisor asks an employee whether he discarded deliverable mail.
The steward cannot exercise Weingarten rights on the employee’s behalf. And unlike “Miranda rights,” which involve criminal investigations, the employer is not required to inform the employee of the Weingarten right to representation.
Employees also have the right under Weingarten to a pre-interview consultation with a steward. Federal Courts have extended this right to premeeting consultations to cover Inspection Service interrogations. (U.S. Postal Service v. NLRB, D.C. Cir. 1992, M-01092).
In a Weingarten interview the employee has the right to a steward’s
assistance—not just a silent presence. The employer would violate the
employee’s Weingarten rights if it refused to allow the representative to
speak or tried to restrict the steward to the role of a passive observer.
Although ELM Section 666.6 requires all postal employees to cooperate
with postal investigations, the carrier still has the right under Weingarten
to have a steward present before answering questions in this situation.
The carrier may respond that he or she will answer questions once a
steward is provided.
Superseniority in Transfers
The contract contains special provisions protecting steward positions from transfer or reassignment. These special steward rights are known as “superseniority.” The steward superseniority provision is contained in the last paragraph of Article 17.3. That language protects stewards from being transferred from a facility or tour where letter carriers are working— unless there is no other city letter carrier job left. National Arbitrator Britton ruled in H4N-5C-C-17075, November 28, 1988 (C-08504), that Article 17.3 bars both temporary and permanent reassignments of stewards, and that the prohibition applies even if there are no vacant job assignments. In other words superseniority rights must be observed even if it requires an involuntary transfer of another, more senior carrier, whether full- or part-time. (Step 4, H1N-2B-C 7422, October 25, 1983, M-00077)
The steward’s superseniority rights override the excessing provisions of Article 12, Principles of Seniority, Posting and Reassignments. So NALC stewards are always the last letter carriers to be excessed from a section, the craft or an installation, regardless of their seniority or their full- or part-time status.
Article 31.3 provides that the Postal Service will make available to the union all relevant information necessary for collective bargaining or the enforcement, administration or interpretation of the Agreement, including information necessary to determine whether to file or to continue the processing of a grievance. It also recognizes the union’s legal right to employer information under the National Labor Relations Act. Examples of the types of information covered by this provision include:
• attendance records
• payroll records
• documents in an employee’s official personnel file
• internal USPS instructions and memorandums
• disciplinary records
• route inspection records
• patron complaints
• handbooks and manuals
• reports and studies
• seniority lists
• overtime desired and work assignment lists
• bidding records
• wage and salary records
• training manuals
• Postal Inspection Service investigative memoranda (IM’s)
To obtain employer information the union need only give a reasonable description of what it needs and make a reasonable claim that the information is needed to enforce or administer the contract. The union must have a reason for seeking the information—it cannot conduct a “fishing expedition” into Postal Service records. Settlements and arbitration awards have addressed the union’s entitlement to information in certain specific areas. For example, the union has a right to any and all information which the employer has relied upon to support its position in a grievance. (Step 4, H1C-3U-C 6106, November 5, 1982, M-00316) Note that the union also has an obligation to provide the Postal Service with information it relies upon in a grievance. See Article 15 above. The union is also entitled to medical records necessary to investigate or process a grievance, even without an employee’s authorization, as provided for in the Administrative Support Page 31-2 NALC-USPS Joint Contract Administration Manual - November 2005 Manual (ASM) Appendix (USPS 120.090) and by Articles 17 and 31 of the National Agreement. Step 4, D78N-4D-C 91000498, January 14, 1994, (M-01155) Step 4, H7N-1P-C 2187, November 16, 1988, (M- 00881). If requests for copies are part of the information request, then USPS must provide the copies Step 4, H7N-5K-C 23406, May 21, 1992, (M-01094). A national pre-arbitration settlement established that if the union provides the Postal Service with a list of officers and stewards, the Postal Service must indicate which (if any) applied for a supervisory position within the previous two years. (National Prearbitration Settlement, H4C-3W-C 27068, February 13, 1990, M-01150) When the union is provided with information, for example medical records, it is subject to the same rules of confidentiality as the Postal Service.
Cost. The costs which management may charge the NALC for providing information are governed by the Administrative Support Manual (ASM). Step 4, H4N-5R-C 30270, May 22, 1987, (M-00826) Step 4 H7C-3B-C 37176, June 26, 1992, (M-01141). Currently the ASM provides for a waiver of information fees for the first 100 pages of duplication and the first two hours of search time. ASM Section 352.735, All Other Requesters. Otherwise, the costs for searching are set by ASM Section 352.721 (costs for manual and computer searches) and for duplication by Section 352.722 (currently 15 cents per page).
Re: Bargaining Information
Pursuant to the provisions of Article 31 of the National Agreement, as soon as practicable after the ratification of the 1987 National Agreement between the United States Postal Service and the Joint Bargaining Committee (JBC), the Employer shall, on an accounting period basis, provide the Union with a computer tape containing the following information on those in their respective bargaining units:
NALC-USPS Joint Contract Administration Manual - November 2005
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