Dispute on Custodial Staffing Settled; More Than 3,150 PSEs Converted

September 11, 2014

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(This article appears in the September/October 2014 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

The APWU and USPS signed a major settlement on July 9 that resolved a long-standing dispute over custodial staffing and resulted in the conversion to career of all Maintenance Craft Postal Support Employees.

It was not an agreement we entered into lightly. The agreement stipulates that the MS-47 Handbook-Transmittal Letter 5, which governs custodial work and staffing, will be implemented as amended by our negotiations.

The MS-47 Handbook is probably the most litigated handbook in the history of the APWU.

Since 2001, the APWU and the USPS have locked horns three times in national-level arbitration over changes management tried to make to cleaning procedures outlined in the handbook. The APWU’s challenges were successful.

We chose not to go to arbitration this time because the revisions showed management had learned from their earlier defeats.

Strange Wording

The USPS notified the APWU of its plans to modify the MS-47 Handbook again on Dec. 11, 2011, writing to the union president, “As a matter of general information the Postal Service is reconsidering the efficacy of its current Housekeeping processes.”

That was strange wording for a contractual notification, but it got the ball rolling. Over the intervening years, discussions were held, site visits were made, information was exchanged, and cleaning procedures and equipment were tested.

Besides the strange wording of the letter to the union, there was another stumbling block: Management claimed the changes were prompted by its reconsideration of the “efficacy” of its housekeeping procedures. “Efficacy” has synonyms like: usefulness, effectiveness, value and efficiency.

The Maintenance Craft officers were acutely aware of the Postal Service’s true intentions – to reduce custodial staffing – but we also weighed the prospects of succeeding if we challenged management’s new plans in arbitration, which is something we have a great deal of experience with.

Intense negotiations took place, resulting in the July 9 settlement, which maintained many of our previous accomplishments.

For instance, even though it is very possible there will be some reduction in custodial staffing, there can be no excessing out of the craft or installation due to the implementation of the TL-5 version of the handbook. The eventual impact, if any, varies, with smaller offices experiencing no reduction in staffing and the largest offices experience the biggest potential reduction.

These results must be expected when the USPS improves the methods and equipment we use to perform our work. Prior to notifying the union about the new handbook, the Postal Service had studied cleaning industry standards that had been developed and proven over time. The new handbook standardized the way we do our work as well as the equipment, material and chemicals we use.

Management also developed cleaning techniques that improved the results of the custodians’ efforts, such as the use of a two bucket system for mopping (with a lighter, micro-fiber, mop) that allows rinsing with clean water.

APWU Learned from Success

Just as managers learned from their defeats, the APWU learned from our successes. An earlier version of the MS-47, adopted in 1983, was the result of an agreement between management and the union. APWU officers at the time knew it would result in some downsizing, but they also negotiated provisions to protect and improve the custodial workforce.

We believe the current settlement accomplished that and more.

Among many other things, the original notification of the MS-47-TL-5 had no guarantee of staffing, nor did it guarantee custodians would perform their own duties. In fact it contained instructions about non-custodians performing the work. And custodians could be disciplined for failing to meet the estimated cleaning times.

We concluded that the prospects of again succeeding in national arbitration were dubious. And, while awaiting a hearing and award, the USPS would have been free to wreak havoc on our members. The original MS-47-TL-5 would have been issued with disastrous results.

While we prepared for arbitration, our discussions with the Postal Service continued. When the USPS indicated management was amenable to restoring our protections, we intensified the negotiations. And when we reached the point where we had gone beyond what an arbitrator might have given us, we knew a settlement was possible.

The negotiated Transmittal Letter 5 version of the MS-47 Handbook includes the following provisions:

  • Management must maintain custodial staffing levels determined by the procedures outlined in the MS-47 Handbook; to facilitate the staffing there is even the definition of a “tour” to be utilized;
  • The USPS is prohibited from disciplining custodians who exceed estimated times outlined in the handbook;
  • Managers must include all duties custodians perform in staffing packages they prepare locally;
  • Performance standards will be revised based on the work-and-time standards outlined in ISSA 540, and
  • The requirement to schedule and perform our work is maintained.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) itself contains provisions that:

  • There will be an automatic penalty if management fails to ensure all required custodial work is performed;
  • There will be no excessing of employees based on implementing the MS-47 Transmittal Letter 5 (except for cross-section excessing within the Maintenance Craft and within the installation).

The settlement also resulted in the conversion of over 3,150 Postal Support Employees (PSEs). The settlement stipulates that:

  • The USPS will convert “in-place” all current Maintenance Craft PSEs to career status, either as full-time regulars or part-time regulars. “In-place” means the PSEs will be assigned to the duty assignments they are currently covering;
  • PSEs will not serve a probationary period if they have completed two terms as a PSE or if they are employed at one of 10 identified sites currently operating under Transmittal Letter 5 (TL-5) or scheduled to go under TL-5;
  • Going forward, the provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and Memorandums of Understanding covering PSEs will be applied.

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