Negotiations with USPS and Private Sector

Steve Brooks

July 9, 2021

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

Negotiating new and successor collective bargaining agreements during this COVID-19 period has proved to be very challenging. The Support Services Division has had multiple contract negotiations going on simultaneously over the past several months. At the time of the writing of this article, we have completed the non-economic articles of an initial collective bargaining agreement for our newest group of APWU represented bargaining unit employees at the Human Resource Shared Service Center (HRSSC) in Greensboro, NC.

Negotiations for the economics are just beginning. This will prove to be a challenging process. I believe it may be the first time for the APWU to have to restructure a pay schedule from an EAS scale and create a bargaining pay schedule to put the employees into.

We have been in negotiations with the Postal Service for a successor agreement for the Information Technology/Accounting Services units since June of 2020. We believe that an agreement on the non-economic issues is close and will be entering into the economic talks for this agreement soon.

We have an unusual situation regarding one of our private sector collective bargaining agreements. We represent workers employed by a company called Hollingsworth LLC. The company is contracted by the Postal Service to perform Mail Transport Equipment Service Center (MTESC) work.

The collective bargaining process for these agreements is different in a sense when compared to the process we have in place for our APWU postal contracts. The negotiation process itself is similar in that the parties get together and propose and counter-propose changes to the successor agreement. This process was done, and the negotiating teams came to an agreement on the terms of the successor agreement.

The next step illustrates the difficulty in negotiating in the times of COVID-19 and social distancing. We made the decision to conduct a Zoom conference to go over the terms of the agreement with the members in that unit. Unfortunately, not many members were on the call. Also shortly after negotiations finished, a worker misread a notation on their paystub, leading to a misunderstanding about the new terms of the tentative agreement. Since we did not have the opportunity to address this with the members prior to their vote due to their nonparticipation in the Zoom process, the error was spread by the employees as truth throughout the worksite and everyone believed it, so they did not ratify the terms. We then conducted an in-person question and answer session and new ratification vote on June 11, 2021. When it was clarified what the notation was on their paychecks, they overwhelmingly ratified the terms of the agreement. There are differences between the negotiation process for postal agreements and private sector agreements.

For postal contracts, if an agreement is not made either through negotiation or a ratification process, there is an interest arbitration process for the parties. For privatesector agreements that we negotiate there is no interest arbitration process.

The parties attempt to renegotiate but if the company declares that the terms that have been agreed to during the negotiation process are the company’s final best offer, decisions need to be made. The company then has the right to declare an impasse and invoke all, some, or none of the tentatively agreed upon terms and declare that the collective bargaining agreement.

The union members have a couple of options. They could sanction a strike, or they can conduct another ratification vote in attempt to approve all of the terms tentatively agreed upon rather than risk losing them if the company invokes a contract on them.

As we enter the negotiation process for a successor USPS/APWU Collective Bargaining Agreement we can be thankful that we have an option to go to binding interest arbitration if the parties are too far apart on the terms through the negotiation process. We do not always like the risk of having a neutral arbitrator determining the terms of our agreement, but the process for the private sector is much less appealing.

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