Virtual Bargaining During a Pandemic

Steve Brooks

November 17, 2020

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(This article first appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

The year 2020 has been a trying year for the Support Services Division. The pandemic has changed the way we do business. This is especially true for contract negotiations. Normally we would conduct negotiation meetings face to face, break off into committee meetings, and conduct small group sessions.

We have utilized the Zoom meeting process to some degree, but it has proven to be challenging. There are technical issues that come up, and the process of exchanging physical proposal documents and counterproposals is slowed down using this process.

This year we had three separate collective bargaining agreements and extension agreements expiring. We also had a wage-only renegotiation for a private sector unit and an initial agreement negotiation for a newly organized group of employees at the Human Resource Service Center in Greensboro, NC.

Postal Nurses and IT/AS

We were also able to come to agreement using Zoom for a new collective bargaining agreement between the Postal Service and the Postal Nurses.

Additionally, we had an extension agreement through July of 2020 for our IT/AS group that has expired. We have been using combination of Zoom and in-person meetings to come to another agreement. At this point, the parties have not determined whether to go for a full agreement or another short-term extension. The parties are still quite a bit apart on some monetary issues.

Private Sector

Using the Zoom process, we were able to come to an agreement on a wage increase for the represented group of employees performing Mail Transport Equipment Service Center work for a private sector company called Hollingsworth LLC.

In September we traveled to Little Rock, AR and conducted negotiations with a new group of company representatives associated with a consolidated group of private sector drivers. Salmon Companies was purchased by a new group formerly called Hovestol and Eagle Express, that is now called 10 Roads Express. We were able to come to terms, but currently are waiting for the parties to agree on new language regarding health benefits.

HRSSC

The most challenging negotiations have been with our newly organized group of postal employees at the HRSSC. This negotiation is unique in that we have never negotiated terms for employees that are currently EAS employees and now are becoming a group that is undergoing a collective bargaining process.

Historically with postal employees, there are many differences in wages and benefits between bargaining unit and non-bargaining unit employees. The trick for this negotiation is trying to achieve the best of both worlds in a new and unique collective bargaining agreement.

We attempted to start these negotiations through Zoom, but encountered a few technical difficulties. We decided we would have to do the majority of our sessions in person. I think this was the best thing to do, because the parties negotiating this contract had not met each other and many have not been involved in the negotiation process for any collective bargaining agreement.

For me, it is always best to be across the table from the party you are negotiating with, so that you can see their reactions to your proposals. Body language can tell you a lot about how a person is reacting to what you are proposing.

We have made some strides in the non-economic issues of this tentative agreement. Once we have these issues worked out, we will get to the tough stuff – the wage demands. This group has been drastically underpaid for the work that they perform. It is because of how poorly they have been treated that they made the decision to seek out union representation.

I am sure that we will be able to come to terms with the Postal Service for an improved wage and benefit package for this group. This may take some time, but it will happen.

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