Arbitrator Sustains APWU’s Position on Clerk Craft Jurisdiction over Parcel Sorting Work

Lamont Brooks

January 11, 2021

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(This article first appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

On December 1, 2020, Arbitrator Sharnoff issued a decision confirming Clerk Craft jurisdiction over operation of the Small Parcel Sorting System (SPSS) machine. The Award rejects the National Postal Mail Handlers Union claim that mail handlers should be assigned all the work on the machines. The Postal Service issued a decision in 2015, designating the Clerk Craft as the primary craft for performing the work of “singulating/ separating packages & facing/feeding packages” at the induction stations on SPSS machines. Clerks also rotate to sweeping duties after performing induction station work. When sweeping assignments are not needed to provide rotational relief for clerks operating the machines, sweeping is assigned to mail handlers.

When the decision was announced, President Dimondstein said it, “secures important job protections for our members, and provides a strong basis for protecting our jobs against future challenges… We appreciate the good work of all the people involved in securing this important award.”

Arbitrator Sharnoff held that the Postal Service reasonably determined that singulating and facing duties on the SPSS “constituted significant aspects of the distribution function which historically and traditionally have been assigned to clerks, as the Primary Craft” and that the Postal Service also properly awarded sweeping duties to clerks for rotational purposes.

The Arbitrator agreed with the APWU and the Postal Service that Operation 105 in the RI-399 Guidelines, the Mechanized Parcel Sorter, provides a basis for the assignment of singulating and facing work on the SPSS machines to clerks. He observed that SPSS machines process “approximately equal amounts of first-class packages and priority packages which, as argued by the APWU, meets the definition, in RI-399…of ‘parcels…’” The Arbitrator also agreed with the APWU that Operation 050/055 Priority Mail Distribution supports the assignment of singulating and facing the mail on SPSS machines to the Clerk Craft. He noted that “Distribution of Priority Mail” is clerk work and that each of the other duties listed in Operation 050/055 are subject to the “asterisk note,” which provides that “in offices where the tasks of obtaining empty equipment, obtaining unprocessed mail, loading ledges, sweeping and containerizing is an integral part of the distribution function, the entire operation is a function of the primary craft performing the distribution.”

The Arbitrator agreed with the APWU that the work of “facing” the parcels on the SPSS, is work which is assigned exclusively to clerks in Bulk Mail Centers, and that “[t]here is no evidence …that Mail Handlers have been assigned to face packages on parcel sorting machines.” The Arbitrator squarely rejected the Mail Handlers’ reliance on the fact that RI-399 assigns the work of “facing” mail to mail handlers in Operations 010 Originating Mail Preparation (which operation does not include distribution or sortation); Operation 050/055; Operation 110-129; and Operation 180-189: “The Arbitrator notes that the facing function assigned to the Mail Handlers in these operations has an asterisk which indicates that where the allied duties are ‘an integral function of the distribution function, the entire operation is a function of the primary craft performing the distribution.’ The Arbitrator notes that Clerk employees are assigned to the distribution function in each of those three operations.”

This is an outstanding award from Arbitrator Sharnoff. The decision reinforces that the distribution function historically belongs to the Clerk Craft – protecting hundreds of Clerk Craft jobs. I want to thank APWU National Dispute Resolution Committee head and Queens Area Local President Ron Suslak and Assistant Clerk Craft Directors Lynn Pallas-Barber and Sam Lisenbe for their hard work on this case.

We also owe thanks to the Flushing Local and to Flushing Local Clerk Craft Director Pat Vasquez for her testimony about the operation and staffing of mail processing operations.

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