Union says USPS consolidation plan violates collective bargaining agreement

Converting rural postmasters to part-time positions raises 'serious questions,' APWU says.

A labor union representing postal workers is blasting a U.S. Postal Service consolidation plan as violating the terms of a 2010 collective bargaining agreement.

USPS in May announced a strategy to reduce operating hours to enable it to keep open rural post offices previously slated for closure. In 2011, the agency studied 3,700 post offices for possible closure. Under the May plan, USPS announced it will look at an additional 13,000 post offices for potential cost-saving options other than closure.

The options, based on meetings between agency officials and local communities, include cutting back hours and labor reductions. Under its strategy, USPS proposed leaving as many as 9,000 rural post offices open only two to four hours daily, and limiting employees at an additional 4,000 offices to a six-hour workday. Postmasters at reduced hour locations would switch to part-time work, with moderated or no benefits, becoming postmaster reliefs -- noncareer employees who currently work on a postmaster’s day off.

USPS sees the strategy as a compromise and a good deal for the large percentage of its workforce nearing retirement. Becoming a part-time retiree and working as a postmaster-relief employee would not affect retirement benefits accrued as postmasters, USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has said switching workers from full- to part-time arrangements would generate most of the $500 million in savings identified in the plan. The overall consolidation plan would reduce the size of the USPS workforce by about 13,000 employees, but the agency has said it wants to avoid layoffs and provide alternative options for those affected.

The American Postal Workers Union in a July 2 statement called the proposal a direct violation of a 2010 collective bargaining agreement with USPS. In an earlier letter to USPS, Cliff Guffey, president of the union, said the plan raises “serious questions about how the Postal Service plans to reconcile [its plan] with the [its] commitments in the APWU national agreement.”

In a statement posted on its website, the union said using postmaster-relief employees as permanent replacements for postmasters and having the relief employees do work that is neither supervisory nor managerial violate the terms of the agreement.

“This plan to cover window hours in solely retail operations at the impacted rural post offices with nonbargaining unit, nonsupervisory and nonmanagerial PMRs is a blatant rejection of key underpinnings of the national agreement, as well as the law,” Guffey said.

Saunders cautioned that USPS’ May 9 consolidation plan was only one option; post office hours are tailored to specific communities’ needs under the plan.

“We disagree with the APWU’s allegations and are in compliance with our negotiated labor contract,” USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said.

The Postal Regulatory Commission will meet to review the plan next week. It has requested more details on how the agency’s modified strategy would change the efficiency of mail delivery.