Just months after concluding a negotiated agreement with the American postal Workers Union, the US Postal Service is asking Congress to invalidate portions of that agreement. The most important provision the USPS would like to jettison is layoff protection for current APWU represented employees. Which raises a serious question- why did the USPS agree to continued layoff protection if it presents an obstacle to cutting costs so serious as to require breaking the contract before the ink has dried?
The postal service’s explanation seems to be that because an arbitrator established the no-layoff clause in 1978, arbitrators will always and forever include it in future arbitration awards:
In 1978, the Postal Service proposed to eliminate layoff protections; however, when this issue went to interest arbitration, the arbitrator declined to accept this proposal, and instead gave complete layoff protection to those employed on the date of the decision, and to all newly hired employees once they had achieved six years of continuous service with the Postal Service. Arbitral precedent therefore indicates that arbitrators are unlikely to eliminate layoff protections entirely.
But the US Postal Service is in very different financial circumstances now than it was in 1978. The USPS could have allowed the negotiations to go to arbitration, and argued that the market and financial situations required it to have the ability to lay off employees. (Contrary to widespread misinformation, there is nothing in the law that forbids an arbitrator from considering the financial health of the USPS in reaching a decision.)
An arbitrator could well have extended the no-layoff clause anyway- but at least the USPS would have had a consistent and unambiguous argument for legislation.
So why didn’t it take the obvious course of action? It’s difficult to avoid the suspicion that the service used the extension of the no-layoff clause to extract significant concessions from the union- waived or delayed COLAs, a two tier pay system, the redefinition of “full-time” to mean 30 hours, and a big increase in non-career employees. It’s inconceivable that the union would have agreed to any of those items without layoff protection.
And now that the USPS is aggressively implementing the concessions it won, it asks Congress to eliminate the one big concession it voluntarily gave the union in return. That doesn’t sound like good faith bargaining.
The USPS decision to seek legislation now also places the upcoming city carrier negotiations in jeopardy- why would the NALC agree to a contract knowing that the USPS is already seeking to invalidate the one it just signed with the APWU?
The PMG’s decision doesn’t make a great deal of sense politically, either. It should be obvious to anyone who’s been awake for the last few months that no significant legislation to truly address the USPS’s situation is going to pass this Congress. The House GOP will block anything they think remotely resembles a “bailout” (including the correction of undisputed pension overcharges), while the Democrats in the Senate will at least try to defend the collective bargaining rights of postal workers.
The end result will be the same as the status quo: stalemate. The only change will be the perception that the USPS has acted in bad faith in negotiating with its employees.