January 2012 Update
Those keeping up to date on Postal issues in general, and Mail Handler issues specifically, have seen many developments in recent weeks which have done nothing to quell the ongoing uncertainty. To begin, we saw the Postal Service declare an impasse in the current round of negotiations over the terms of the 2011 National Agreement. Secondly, we’ve seen the Postal Service soliciting Mail Handlers to change over to the Letter Carrier craft. And thirdly, we’ve seen Congress reconvene which presents the possibility that either the House or Senate will once again try to take up the subject of Postal Reform.
Since the announcement of the contract impasse there has been much speculation as to its cause. Some have attributed the impasse to the health insurance program, while others have speculated it involved workplace flexibility. Some have said it was wages or cost of living allowances, while others claim the impasse concerned retirement issues. The fact of the matter is that we may never know what issue, or combination of issues, caused negotiations to break down. This is particularly true when considering that we weren’t the party that walked away from the table. It was the Postal Service who concluded that further negotiations were futile and declared the impasse. Were our positions reversed and we were the party who walked away, we would certainly know why. But under the present circumstances, we must consider the possibility that our own negotiators can’t state positively why the Postal Service declared impasse.
So where do we go now? The controlling statute sets forth the mechanisms for mediation and arbitration; although, it allows the parties to mutually adopt alternative methods to resolve the impasse. Mediation and arbitration are distinctly different processes. A mediator serves as a facilitator designed to bring the parties together in order to assist in settlement, while and arbitrator acts as a judge with the ability to impose the terms of the contract. Mediation may also involve fact finding; but, more than 40 years of collective bargaining history tends to suggest that fact finding may be best left to arbitration. Keep an eye on your bulletin board for further information as to the mechanism and time lines for the resolution of these matters.
So where do we stand now? There will not be any wage increases or cost of living adjustments in the near future; however, the terms of our contract remain in effect until resolution. People will continue to receive their step increase, the 40 hour work week for full-time regulars remains intact, we still have our holidays, we still have our leave procedures, we still have our overtime desired list, and all of the other work rules which govern our industrial lives.
Turning to the matter of the Postal Services’ decision to offer Mail Handlers the opportunity to change to the Letter Carrier craft, I would encourage anyone considering such a change to weigh their options carefully. Towards that end, the National Union has disseminated a posting which I’ve directed to be placed on the bulletin boards. A copy of that posting is available here.
Finally, there’s Congress. The day before President Obama delivered a State of the Union address which included a call to ensure that veterans returning from Iraq would have jobs, a member of the House of Representatives reiterated his call for the reduction of 220,000 jobs from the largest civilian employer of veterans, the Postal Service. We’re at a point where I don’t know what would be worse for America and the Postal Service, Congressional inaction, or Congressional action.