The APWU has won a grievance concerning the implementation of the Sorting & Delivery Center in Utica, New York. Describing management’s position as “plainly illogical and self-contradictory,” the arbitrator has canceled all current and future excessing at the “spoke” post offices for the Utica S&DC. The clerks who had been excessed will be returned to their positions and post offices. The ruling is here.
The decision does not return carriers to their post offices, but it reverses the Postal Service’s decision to excess ten clerks at eight post offices, and it will delay any future excessing at the Utica spokes. Here are the post offices and the excessed clerk positions:
- Clinton Post Office: 1 Full-time and 1 Part-time
- Frankfort Post Office: 1 Full-time
- Herkimer Post Office: 1 Part-time
- Marcy Post Office: 1 Full-time
- New Hartford Post Office: 1 Full-time
- Oriskany Post Office: 1 Full-time
- Whitesboro Post Office: 1 Full-time and 1 Part-time
- Yorkville Post Office: 1 Full-time
Eliminating clerk positions is made possible by the relocation of carriers from post offices to the S&DC. Clerks not only cover the retail window but also provide support for carriers, so when the carriers go, there’s less work for clerks. Reducing the number of clerks at post offices is one of the main cost-saving elements of the S&DC plan.
The issue in the Utica case involved a meeting with USPS and APWU officials that is required by the Bargaining Agreement.
When the Postal Service is planning a major relocation of employees, it’s required to hold a regional-level meeting with the union six months in advance and a meeting at the national level 90 days in advance.
The planned move date for carriers to the Utica S&DC was February 25, 2023, and the Postal Service wanted the excessing of clerks to happen at the same time, which made November 27, 2022, the deadline for the second meeting.
The detailed narrative described in the arbitrator’s decision indicates that there were numerous email exchanges and phone calls between coordinators, managers, and representatives of the USPS and APWU concerning the scheduling of this meeting.
For various reasons — scheduling conflicts, leaves and vacations, unanswered emails, failure to provide adequate information before the meeting, and unavailability of participants — the parties could not agree on a date before the deadline. The Postal Service went ahead and held the required meeting on November 23 but without any union representatives present.
According to the Postal Service, the union utilized “stall tactics” to prevent the parties from meeting prior to the deadline, and USPS management was therefore forced to unilaterally schedule and hold the November 23 meeting.
The arbitrator, however, concluded that “the evidence in the case file does not support this finding,” and he went on to make this comment:
“A rational person examining this case would quickly determine that Management’s central position is plainly illogical and self-contradictory. Management cannot meet without the Union and somehow satisfy the contractual requirement that it meet with the Union.”
The arbitrator observed that “it is difficult to believe that various Atlantic Area Management officials …. would continue to maintain such a position without being instructed to do so.” The implication here is that postal officials at Headquarters had to be calling the shots.
According to the APWU, holding the meeting without the union present amounted to a new policy, and the Postal Service did not go through the proper procedure for creating such a policy.
The Postal Service denied that it had created a new policy, but the arbitrator didn’t buy the argument and referred to “management’s brazen defense of this policy.”
The ruling directs management to “cease and desist all Article 12.4.B violations and retract its new policy…. Any pending reassignment/excessing events related to the Utica S&DC will be canceled and all reassignment/excessing notices rescinded.”
The APWU also objected to the phased approach to implementation, with eight Utica post offices losing carriers in phase one, and possibly seventeen more in phase two.
According to the union, “the phased approach improperly bestows priority consideration to employees in post offices that are impacted by Phase One while leaving other, possibly more senior, employees disadvantaged at later phases.”
The arbitration decision does not appear to address this issue directly, but Utica is not the only S&DC where implementation is being done in phases. The Mid-Hudson S&DC, for example, has some spoke conversions scheduled for September 2023 and more in February 2024.
There are other S&DCs where a phased approach may be in the works. In Bryan, Texas, for example, only the College Station post office has sent its carriers to the S&DC so far, but there are other post offices within a 30-minute drive, and four of them have appeared on previous conversion lists. It’s likely that these other offices will eventually become spoke offices as well.
The decision also has some other interesting details.
According to lists shared by the Postal Service with stakeholders back in the summer of 2022, new S&DCs were planned for New Castle and Williamsport in Pennsylvania, but they dropped off of subsequent lists, with no public explanation. We now learn that the Postal Service had issues providing the necessary information to the union before the required meeting, so the meeting was not held, and that’s at least partly why these S&DC conversions were cancelled.
The arbitrator’s decision also says that the Postal Service told the APWU that to achieve the entire S&DC implementation “in some cases land will need to be purchased and construction will need to take place.” This appears to indicate that the Postal Service plans to start from scratch on some new S&DCs and not simply repurpose existing facilities.
The arbitrator has instructed the union and management to meet and “determine a plan to make these employees whole.” The union’s request for reimbursement for the costs incurred in making the grievance was denied.
— Steve Hutkins
Featured photo: Whitesboro, NY Post Office