1. Collective Bargaining
Negotiations with postal unions cover a full range of topics involving wages, benefits, and conditions of employment. The terms of the new 2000 National Agreement between the Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO (APWU), were determined pursuant to an award issued by an interest arbitration panel chaired by neutral arbitrator Stephen Goldberg on December 18, 2001. The three-year contract, covering approximately 337,000 employees represented by the APWU, is for the period from November 21, 2000, through November 20, 2003. Arbitrator Goldberg, who rejected the APWU demand for wage parity with city letter carriers, awarded three general wage increases of 1.2 percent effective November 18, 2000; 1.8 percent effective November 17, 2001; and 1.4 percent effective November 16, 2002. The award continues the current cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) formula and payment schedule for career employees, except that in lieu of COLA payments for the first year of the contract, eligible career employees were to receive a one-time lump sum cash payment of $499. Arbitrator Goldberg awarded selective one-pay-level upgrades for six maintenance and motor vehicle positions. The positions of Mail Processor and Senior Mail Processor also received a one-pay-level upgrade.
An interest arbitration award was issued on February 3, 2002, which sets the terms of a new four-year collective bargaining agreement covering approximately 118,000 rural letter carrier employees represented by the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association (NRLCA). The agreement is for the period from November 21, 2000, through November 20, 2004, and provides general wage increases of 1.2 percent effective November 18, 2000; 1.8 percent effective November 17, 2001; 1.4 percent effective November 16, 2002; and 1.2 percent effective November 15, 2003. The NRLCA and the Postal Service also could extend the labor agreement for a fifth year if the parties reach a settlement on the economic provisions, based on the comparable year in either the APWU or National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) national agreements. In addition to the general wage increases, the interest arbitration panel chaired by neutral arbitrator John Calhoun Wells provided for the continuation of the current COLA formula except that in lieu of COLA payments for the first year of the agreement eligible career employees will receive a one-time lump sum cash payment of $499. Arbitrator Wells also awarded two pay adjustments, one of which is, in effect, the equivalent of a one-pay-level upgrade. The other is a $300 wage increase. Those two pay adjustments are being funded by major productivity changes in rural carrier standards. The standards involve flat and letter mail casing rates, the strapping out of mail, and the definition of letter size mail. Also of note, the Postal Service secured a national mail count beginning February 28, 2002, and ending March 13, 2002.
Negotiations between the Postal Service and NALC began in August 2001 for a successor to the collective bargaining agreement that was to expire on November 20, 2001. Productive discussions took place throughout the fall and the parties reached agreement to extend the discussions past contract expiration and into 2002. The motivating factors to extend the discussions were the September 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax threats, which had consumed much of the attention of the negotiators. The agreement will cover approximately 239,000 employees represented by the NALC.
Negotiations with the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, AFL-CIO (NPMHU), which represents approximately 60,000 mail handlers for a successor to the collective bargaining agreement that expired on November 20, 2000, reached impasse. It is anticipated the parties will resume discussions aimed at resolution of the dispute either through further discussions or by utilization of the dispute resolution procedures of the Postal Reorganization Act.
The Postal Service reached agreement with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL-CIO (IAM), in February 2001 on the terms of a four-year agreement covering tool and die shop workers at the Mail Equipment Shops in Washington, DC. The agreement expires on January 30, 2005.
Collective bargaining agreements between the Postal Service and certain smaller bargaining units — National Postal Professional Nurses, Information Systems/Accounting Service Centers (APWU), and Operating Services/Engineering, Facility Services (APWU) — expired with the parties having failed to reach agreement on the terms of successor agreements. Discussions between the parties have continued in an effort to resolve the specific disputes.
While collective bargaining sessions with the NALC in the fall of 2001 addressed a wide variety of work rules and issues, the parties concentrated on rewriting Article 15 of the Grievance-Arbitration Procedure to reflect the new dispute resolution process, the first major restructuring of the grievance-arbitration procedure in more than twenty years.
During 2001, the Postal Service and the NALC completed the joint nationwide implementation of the new dispute resolution procedure in accordance with the September 2000 Memorandum of Understanding Re: Dispute Resolution Process Implementation. Implementation, which included training 230 management and union representatives, was completed in September 2001. Streamlining the old grievance-arbitration procedure, the new process reduces the number of steps before arbitration from three to two. In addition, the process encourages the resolution of disputes at the lowest possible level of the organization.
In September 2001 the parties published the third edition of the USPS-NALC Joint Contract Administration Manual, which was distributed to every city delivery unit in the system. First negotiated and published in 1998 and updated each year thereafter, this contract guide has been widely used in the field, and it has been crucial to the parties’ goals of reducing the incidence of workplace disputes.
The Postal Service and the NPMHU have completed the second full year of their test procedure, which eliminates the third step of the grievance procedure at selected sites. Despite a significant increase in the number of grievances appealed to Step 2, the number of cases resolved at Step 2 remains steady. The parties continue to evaluate other changes that can be made to improve the effectiveness of the grievance process. The parties have made significant progress in completing the Contract Interpretation Manual. With only a few articles left to finalize, it is expected that the manual will be released to field personnel in 2002.
The Postal Service and the NPMHU hosted their fourth annual Quality of Work Life Conference. This national event, which showcases local initiatives developed jointly by labor and management, has increased the visibility of the Quality of Work Life process and created a greater awareness among managers and craft employees of the benefits that the process can bring to the workplace.
In the area of Labor Relations Systems, the redesign of the Grievance and Arbitration Tracking System (GATS 2.0) was fully implemented. With all field offices now required to input grievances at the Step 2 level of the process, GATS 2.0 offers aid to management in identifying and analyzing workplace disputes earlier in the grievance process. In addition, GATS 2.0 continues to facilitate changes in the grievance/arbitration scheduling process as agreed to by the major unions, resulting from negotiations. Additional enhancements to the system are under way to further increase management’s use of GATS 2.0 as a labor relations tool.