USPS Must Do More For Veterans
(This article by then-Executive Vice President Cliff Guffey first appeared in the November/December 2007 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
Although the Postal Service employs large numbers of veterans, not enough is being done by our employer to help qualified veterans secure jobs.
During testimony I gave before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity on Sept. 6, I pointed out that the Postal Service has eliminated or contracted out the six job classifications that are restricted to applying veterans under the terms of the Veterans’ Preference Act. (These jobs mainly involved building maintenance and custodial work.)
Plainly stated, contracting out policies are especially damaging to veterans’ chances of finding employment with the USPS.
The APWU has been monitoring this development as part of the effort to enforce our Collective Bargaining Agreement. For years, the Postal Service has sought to contract out more and more of these restricted jobs over the objections of the APWU. As I told the House panel members: We think that this effort is contrary to the spirit of the Veterans’ Preference Act and not in the best interests of the Postal Service.
And as we’ve been saying, the savings the Postal Service purports to be seeking through contracting out prove to be illusory. Veterans are losing their postal employment rights because the Postal Service is not preserving these restricted jobs for them in accordance with federal policy. The Postal Service should be required to bargain with the APWU before it can contract out any restricted job.
The following are excerpts from my testimony and from a question-and-answer session at the hearing.
Why I Testified
I am proud to say that I am a 10-point preference eligible veteran. I served with the Marines in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969. President William Burrus, Maintenance Director Steve Raymer (who attended the hearing with me), and Legislative Director Myke Reid are also preference-eligible veterans. Steve was also in the Marines, Bill served in the Army, and Myke in the Air Force.
But the fact that large numbers of veterans are employed by the Postal Service tends to obscure the fact that the Postal Service effort on behalf of our veterans is not as strong and beneficial as it could be.
Postal Service reports reveal a continuous decline in the number and proportion of its workers who are veterans. USPS Annual Reports to Congress from 1999 through 2005 show that the Postal Service has experienced a continuous decline in the number and proportion of its workers who are veterans. In Fiscal Year 1999, the USPS workforce was 31.6 percent veterans; six years later, the share had dropped to 26.6 percent.
Returning Veterans Take a Hit
Veterans Administration reports show that our returning veterans are suffering levels of unemployment and homelessness that are simply unacceptable. The reality is that unemployment usually affects younger, less experienced workers the most, and that includes those attempting to enter the civilian workforce after their discharge from military service.
The VA estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and that 400,000 to one million veterans experience homelessness over the course of a year. You could say that one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley, or box, has served in the U.S. military. While great efforts have been made to provide housing, these have not been nearly enough.
More importantly, our veterans need good jobs paying a living wage and with adequate fringe benefits. Many studies have shown that gainful employment at a living wage with the opportunity for advancement is the foundation for maintaining economic stability and reducing the risk of homelessness.
There is no doubt that the Veterans’ Preference Act has provided important assistance to veterans. The point preferences given to veterans and disabled veterans, and the reservations of certain jobs for qualified veterans are important and effective means of ensuring that veterans are provided federal and Postal Service employment opportunities.
But many veterans are unable to take advantage of these opportunities.
Awareness of Their Rights
Returning veterans may not be aware of their veterans’ preference rights. It is our understanding, gained from speaking with a large number of discharged troops, that the military and VA (and Postal Service) do not do enough to inform them of their veterans’ preference rights.
Many veterans are unaware, for example, that 10-point eligible veterans have a right to apply at any time for any position for which a non-temporary appointment has been made from a list of eligible’s within the past three years.
Veterans whose military service caused them to miss a deadline should be informed that they can file for an open competitive examination after the closing date.
Of course, even knowing their rights under the law will not really assist veterans unless the Postal Service makes an effective effort to inform them of employment opportunities. Veterans who are informed of their rights — and also informed of available postal positions — are far more likely to gain USPS employment, mainly because they will have access to the entrance exam upon discharge, rather than having to wait for what can be years before the examination is again offered to the public.
Another problem is that, in a time of continuing automation and stable or declining First Class Mail volume, the Postal Service is not likely to be hiring a large number of new workers.
It may be that the most effective way to provide employment opportunities for veterans would be to identify additional positions that could be restricted for the employment of veterans.
If veterans are to be provided meaningful postal employment opportunities as they have been in the past, they need to be systematically informed of their rights. The military should be required to provide stronger exit counseling on the matter of their preference rights.
The Veterans’ Preference Act needs to be updated — where it lists specific jobs that are reserved for veterans, it consists mainly of jobs that are basically defunct, such as elevator operator, or have been contracted out, such as custodial work.
Custodial positions in rural areas and suburbs are extremely likely to be contracted out.
These jobs may not sound like much, but they are great entry-level positions that often lead to higher-level positions within the bargaining unit, all the way to Level 12 and 13, which include the Electronic Technician positions. The Postal Service isn’t necessarily targeting military veterans, but contracting out seems to be the order of the day. We don’t believe this is good public policy.
Just as the Veterans’ Administration needs to provide better information about Veterans’ Preference rights, the Postal Service must systematically provide information about employment opportunities to the military, to the VA, and to veterans themselves.
Currently, the best employment information vets are offered is at job fairs, which are held sporadically and do not regularly include a representative from the USPS. We recommend that all federal agencies be given timely notice of these fairs, and that all agencies within the geographical area of the fairs be required to send knowledgeable representatives.
Finally, we say that the Postal Service should be required to bargain with the APWU before it can contract out any restricted job, and that if the parties cannot reach agreement on the decision to contract out, the dispute resolution procedures of the Postal Reorganization Act should be applied.