Brynn Anderson / AP

Letter Carriers Sue Postal Service Over Push to 'Radically Refashion' Their Jobs

New initiative is causing employees pain and exhaustion, group alleges.

A union representing 200,000 U.S. Postal Service employees is suing the mailing agency over an initiative to change the structure of their jobs, saying it is causing workers physical harm and is in violation of a negotiated contract. 

The National Association of Letter Carriers is seeking an injunction in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against a pilot program known as the Consolidated Casing Initiative. The Postal Service is looking to divide letter carriers tasks into two distinct positions, which the union alleged is forcing some employees to do more physical labor and may cause them to quit. NALC asked the court to immediately pause the initiative while it mounts a challenge through the collective bargaining process. 

In a normal day, letter carriers spend part of their mornings at a post office sorting mail and conducting other office work before they head out for deliveries. Under the new initiative, the union said, the Postal Service is splitting those responsibilities into two separate jobs: a “caser” carrier who sorts the mail and a “street” carrier who makes the deliveries. 

The union said this is a push to “radically refashion” letter carriers’ jobs that has caused hardships on postal employees. The changes have “caused letter carriers to suffer physically, from pain and exhaustion” due to increased time spent walking, NALC alleged. USPS and the union have agreed to go to arbitration in December, but NALC said by that time it “will be too late to remedy these harms.” 

In addition to the “physically taxing” work letter carriers conduct when out for deliveries, the union said, they are often exposed to weather such as rain, snow and extreme heat. NALC also said in its complaint that “casers” under the new initiative have to arrive at 5:30 a.m., while “street” carriers are arriving and therefore ending their days later. This has resulted in employees spending more time in the heat and will lead to more time in the dark during the winter, NALC said. 

A spokesman for the Postal Service declined to comment, saying the agency would not speak about pending litigation. 

USPS began the initiative as a pilot at a post office in Annandale, Virginia, and in August expanded it to several other post offices. The agency informed NALC last month it would eventually launch a third phase of the program, bringing the initiative to 58 additional facilities.

The union argued its existing contract prohibits the change, saying it “fundamentally redefines” a letter carrier’s responsibilities and that amounts to a “unilateral management action.” USPS moved forward with its pilot program despite the pending arbitration, NALC said, and did not give employees a choice in which of the two new roles it assigned. Employees are working longer hours, according to the union, and seeing their routes reconfigured. Some employees have considered quitting over the new initiative, NALC suggested. 

The union said USPS would “suffer no harm” by delaying its implementation and expansion of the initiative until the arbitration is resolved.