Understanding Your Rights

May 1, 2015

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(This article first appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Many employees accept unwarranted discipline, simply because they are unaware of their rights. Sometimes out of fear of losing their job, or being harassed by their supervisor, employees let things go and hope for the best. But things often get worse – and before they realize what’s happening, they’re in trouble.

Therefore, it’s imperative that you know your rights.

File a Grievance
Grievances should be filed within 14 days of an incident – whether it is a warning letter, suspension or removal – or when a violation of the contract occurs.

When your supervisor issues discipline, it must be in writing, with your right to file a grievance outlined. Never wait until the last minute to contact your union steward to file a grievance – contact your representative immediately. If your supervisor refuses to permit you to see your steward, find a way to see the steward after work hours.

In order for your union steward to successfully represent you, he/she must know all the facts. Never hide information or documents. If a violation has occurred, a Step 1 grievance will be filed on your behalf.

If the grievance is not resolved at the Step 1 meeting, your union steward is authorized to appeal the grievance to Steps 2 and 3.

If the grievance is not resolved, a National Business Agent is authorized to appeal the case to arbitration. If the case is arbitrated, an arbitrator issues an award that is binding on both sides.

Note that several locals are involved in pilot disciplinary pro­grams, where grievance procedures may be slightly different.

Don’t Ignore Harassment
If you feel your rights are being violated – even if there has been no disciplinary action – consult your steward immediately, because harassment often leads to disciplinary action.

If you are being sexually harassed, inform harassers that you find their com­ments offensive and request that they cease. If the harassment continues, notify your union steward and request that a grievance be filed. Sexual harassment violates:

  • Section 703 of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act
  • Article 2.1 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement
  • Section 673.222 of the Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM)

Dealing with the OIG, Inspectors
Some employees are petrified just by the thought of talking to an agent of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) or postal inspector.

If questioned by an OIG agent or postal inspector, even if you believe you are not guilty of any wrongdoing, you should:

  • Remain calm;
  • Identify yourself correctly;
  • Request a steward or an attorney be present;
  • Remain silent until you have consulted with your steward or attorney;
  • Prior to a search of your person or property, request to see a search warrant, and
  • If they do not have one, inform them that you do not consent to the search, but do not physically resist arrest or the search.

Consult with a union steward or attorney first.

  • Don’t sign any papers waiving your rights;
  • Do not admit to or deny any allegations, and
  • Do not make any written or oral statements.

Remember, the OIG agent or postal inspector will not inform you of your right to have a union representative present. You must request one. Beware of the good guy/bad guy routine. One OIG agent or inspector may act as the “bad guy” while the other acts as the “good guy” and tries to con you into believing he/she is helping you.

Don’t buy what he/she is selling. Refuse to answer questions unless a steward or an attorney is present. What you say will definitely be used against you.

Knowing your rights will make work­ing for the Postal Service less stressful. If you are interested in learning more about your rights, contact your local union officers or stewards.

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