Preparation for Interest Arbitration

Clint Burelson

September 11, 2019

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(This article first appeared in the September/October 2019 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

The interest arbitration hearings beginning Sept. 4th before neutral arbitrator Stephen Goldberg will determine our next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA or “contract”) for the next few years. We expect Clerk Craft wages to be a main issue of contention.

The Postal Service wants to convince Arbitrator Goldberg that postal workers are overpaid compared to workers at Walmart and other companies in the private sector. The Postal Service’s advocate/arbitrator will again be Robert Dufek, who previously worked for Morgan Lewis, the notoriously anti-union law firm. The APWU advocate/arbitrator will be Phil Tabbita, who is our negotiation support manager and a former postal worker from Detroit.

During preparations for interest arbitration, the Clerk Craft and other crafts brought in postal workers to tell stories of their life at the Post Office to the craft officers and the attorneys who will be presenting our case in front of Arbitrator Goldberg. These stories, from workers across the country, were remarkably similar.

Participants expressed frustration with the constant chaos and continual degradation of their work in the USPS. The USPS’s failure to staff, train, and provide the service that their communities deserve is hard on employees striving to do a good job.

Postal workers described their belief in the mission of the Postal Service to provide good service to their communities. They noted the increasing amount of regulations and other pieces of information that they were required to remember in order to properly perform their duties.

Not surprisingly, chronic understaffing was a main theme in these discussions. Workers described the stress that goes along with not having adequate staffing to properly provide service. Mandatory overtime for both PSEs and career employees makes it difficult for members to manage and enjoy their lives outside the Post Office. It was heartbreaking to hear how many workers have small children at home who are impacted by the Postal Service’s refusal to reasonably staff offices and ensure a predictable work schedule.

The problems for PSEs were substantial as they receive lower wages, no set schedule, and do not earn retirement, while performing the same work. At this point, there are some people working for the USPS who have been a PSE, not earning retirement nor enjoying the benefit of a predictable schedule, for over seven years.

The participants described how constant lifting and repetitive work – made worse with understaffing – have caused injuries to them and their coworkers, but most workers did not file official claims with the Department of Labor because of the Postal Service’s horrible treatment of workers who have filed claims in the past.

Workers also explained how some of the injuries are related to an overall lack of training. The failure of the USPS to train employees on handling dangerous equipment at the Postal Service results in unnecessary injuries. New employees who have not received proper training are training new employees. The lack of training is across the board and makes it difficult for new workers thrown into a chaotic environment. It also poses a difficulty for the older workers who have to train them without get paid to do so, and have to work harder while the new workers learn the job. Given a turnover rate of PSEs that is over 35 percent, this is a constantly repeating cycle of frustration.

The APWU members who shared their stories deserve our deepest gratitude. As we enter into interest arbitration, we will carry the hearts and minds of all APWU members with us in the struggle to win a better contract and a better life for all postal workers.

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