January 2023 Update
Looking at the Tentative Agreement – Part II
Members are starting to receive their ratification packages for the vote over whether to accept the Tentative Agreement. Should the Tentative Agreement be ratified, it will officially become the 2022 National Agreement. Last month we looked at the wage provisions applicable to career Mail Handlers and MHAs; so, this month we’ll look at some of the other improvements made in the Tentative Agreement.
No Layoff Clause
All career Mail Handlers employed as of September 20, 2022 will be protected against layoff or force reduction during the entire term of the Agreement, unless Congress repeals or significantly relaxes the Private Express Statutes.
The no layoff MOU has been a bedrock provision of the National Agreement for more than 3 decades. This MOU provides layoff protection to career Mail Handlers who do not have the 6 consecutive years of service necessary to be protected from layoffs by Article 6 of the National Agreement. This is a very important MOU to have for career Mail Handlers with less than 6 years of career service.
Automatic Conversion of MHAs
Effective no later than the first full pay period 180 days after ratification, MHAs in 200 man year offices will automatically convert to career after they reach 24 months of relative standing. Automatically converted MHAs will convert to a new career classification called Full-Time Flexible (“FTF”). This classification will only be used for MHAs who auto convert. MHAs who convert to career before the MHA reaches 24 months of relative standing will continue to be converted into a Full-Time Regular position.
FTF employees will have flexible reporting times, flexible non-schedule days, and flexible reporting locations within the installation depending upon operational requirements as established on the Wednesday preceding the service week. The work schedules for FTF employees will consist of five workdays per week, eight hours per day, with two consecutive rest days.
A new entry step will be established for automatically converted FTFs. The wage rate at the time of implementation will equal at least $19.68 per hour for a Level 4 Mail Handler and at least $20.47 per hour for a Level 5. These numbers will be increased by all intervening COLAs, including the COLA to be set for March 2023, adjusted proportionally to 57.50%. After 48 weeks, automatically converted MHAs who may still be FTFs will progress into the regular pay schedule at Step AA.
MHAs who automatically convert to FTF after 24 months of relative standing and who later transition to FTR positions (based on their relative standing as an MHA) will be slotted into the FTR pay step commensurate with their number of weeks as an FTF and will retain time in step credit.
To obtain this automatic conversion to career of MHAs after two years of MHA service, the union also agreed to a very small increase in the percentage of MHAs in each Installation, from 24.5% to 25.0%. Also minor changes have been made in the exception periods for unlimited MHAs (to be the same 8 week period in all Installations around the country, which 8 weeks must fully fall within the months of November and December), and in the ramp up to those pay periods, when 1%, 2%, 3%, and 4% leeway for more MHAs on the rolls for the 4 weeks prior to the exception period).
The creation of the Full-Time Flexible category represents a significant change to the Mail Handler bargaining unit. Only MHAs who are automatically converted after two years will be placed into this category. All other conversions will be made to Full-Time Regular. This is probably the part of the Tentative Agreement that I’m the least warm and fuzzy about. Still, even though we have seen large numbers of conversions over the last two years, I know from experience this will not last forever. We cannot, as a practical matter, allow people to continue to be MHAs for 3 years, 4 years, 5 years, or longer. This change eliminates the possibility that someone will be an MHA for more than 2 years. We’ll see how this works out. I’ll get back to you in a couple of years.
The last paragraph which includes a change in the MHA percentage and the requirement that all facilities observe the same exceptions periods benefits the Union in the area of contract enforcement.
Night Shift Differential
NPMHU was again successful at increasing the night shift differential rate for both career and MHAs. Rates will be increased for employees in both wage scales in Steps A through P as follows: 1% effective May 20, 2023; 1.5% effective May 18, 2024, and 2% effective May 17, 2025. For employees in Step AA or below, night shift differential rates will be increased by 2% each year.
Night shift differential rates had been stagnant for several contracts. This changed with the 2019 National Agreement and the additional increases provided in the Tentative Agreement continue to raise this rate further.
Essentially, there will be no change in health insurance, especially contribution rates, for the first time in several decades of contracts. For career employees, there will be no change in the percentage of employee contribution to health insurance. For the duration of this agreement, the Postal Service’s share of the cost of health insurance will be 72% of the weighted average formula used by OPM for federal employees. At 72%, the Postal Service will pay the same as the federal government pays for health insurance costs for federal employees, who receive exactly the same health insurance benefits.
For MHAs, during their first year of employment, MHAs will be able to maintain their participation in the USPS Noncareer health plan. The Postal Service will continue to pay $125 per pay period for self-only coverage, and 65% of the total premium for any MHA who chooses to participate in the USPS Noncareer plan for self-plus-one or family coverage.
After an MHA completes one 360-day appointment, beginning in each MHA’s second year of employment, an MHA will be able to choose coverage under the USPS Noncareer health plan (at $125 per pay period for self only, or with the Postal Service paying 75% of the total premium for self-plus-one or family coverage) or the MHA will be able to use the same dollar amounts from the Postal Service to obtain coverage from the MHBP Consumer Option or the MHBP Value Plan, which are two of the three plans sponsored in the Federal Employees Health Benefits program by the NPMHU.
The employee share of health insurance is always an important consideration in evaluating a tentative agreement. Maintaining the current percentage for career Mail Handlers is a positive step. In addition, the continuation and improvement in the benefits provided to MHAs helps to stabilize their health insurance costs while they’re on the path to career employment.