Did the postal service bargain in good faith?

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.

  • City Carrier

    “Not in good faith”, does this suprise anyone?

  • gerry

    it amazes me how the postal service and some members of congress thinks it would be a good thing to layoff 200,000 employees.
    we dont get our pay from taxes, so you are only weakening our govt even more by doing this our pay has nothing to do with the debt ceiling or the trillions in debt our country is in.this would be 200,000 more people not paying taxes because they would not be getting a paycheck or 200,000 people not being able to buy things like they are used to doing, this only hurts the businesses thats used to our hard earned money.to me it just doesnt make good sense at all, bur then again we are talking abput our govt.

  • cliff claven

    Hey Gerry
    Did you ever run a business ? If your business was going broke you can bet your ass you would lay off workers. Oh No you would pay the to do nothing !!! This is the union mentality that is ruining the business world.

  • brian

    “This is the union mentality that is ruining the business world.”?
    How do you figure? Union membership is at historically low levels. When it was much higher, a lot of middle class working families were doing pretty well. Now that the unions have shrunk, Corporations are raking in the profits, CEO’s are making millions, yet they cry poverty when it comes to providing decent wages and benefits for the actual workers. The unions gave us a solid middle class- now that the unions are vanishing, so is the middle class. Big surprise.

  • dan

    Their word is worth zero- zilch – nada …… They have no honor, nor feel any shame. Postal Service managers are afraid to do the right thing, because their nincompoop executives will scold them. They are like electricity …..they choose the path of least resistance. What a pitiful lot…. no wonder we are in these dire straits.

  • Buck Wheat

    Yea Ok dan o boy. Another internet genius who thinks he knows it all. Come back to reality dan.

  • idiotland

    Brian, Cliff will get back to you, just as soon as he gets his talking points from clusterfox or the teabaggers.

  • idiotland

    We see once again that in our new corporate dictatorship, that rules and laws mean absolutely nothing, whatsoever. Especially when it comes to the little people.

  • just one more

    Buck Wheat.

    heck of a come back. Oh Yeah!!!!!

  • Poor Richard

    If you are relying on a court decsion, even appealing it to the Supreme Court, you’ll find that the answer is no. Because, basically, the Right Wing Conspiracy is Conspiring. Simple. Afterwards, things may become dicey.

  • dan

    I don’t know everything Buckwheat, just what I’ve seen over the many years at 3 different P&DC’s…. crappy craft employees becoming crappy supervisors and managers without any interpersonal skills or supervisory training prior to entering the position. A recipe for failure.

  • guest

    maybe the apwu should go to congress seeking our 2011 cola our 2012 cola on time (not in 2013) elimination of PSE”s, elimination of the ntft jobs and do away with the two tier pay system.

  • gerry

    to cliff no i have never ran a business, but i know the postal service is not going broke because of to many employees they are going broke because the idiots in congress wont pass legislation that could rectify this whole mess. if you want to get rid of a lot of employees early outs with a VERY GOOD monetary offer is the answer not layoffs besides it would be a big hit to the USPS finances to lay off people i wonder if cliff is a postal employee.

  • ann

    STRIKE!!!!

  • Proud Product of the USA

    100% not the workers fault. If it wasn’t for the mandation of Congress in 2006 to prefund retirement and health care funds for future retirees for a 75 year period to be paid in 10 years the USPS would be profitable even during bad economic times. The bad economic state is caused by not enough union wages and jobs. Maybe the individuals making comments about eliminating the USPS need a wake-up call.
    Shut down the USPS just for a week and see what it does to the economy and the utter chaos it causes. That is why it is against the law and in union contracts for Postal Workers to strike. A good economy is driven by putting americans to work with a decent wage not minimum wage.

  • steve

    Proud Product of the USA is right on point. Only thing I would like to see from the APWU; lets get our members our customers and this counrty to stand up once and for all. Lets tell congress and every other law maker we will take the no lay off clause as long as they do as well. Also we will take a reduction in pay once they reduce theirs. Strike – is against the law, so is what they are doing to the members. They are bullying us into submission. Didnt they pass a new law about bullying?

  • dan

    The Service can’t get their stories straight
    They continue to give us the business. Their continuing shell game only makes it worse.

    Buck Wheat is probably one of the morons….not very bright.

  • Nathaniel Sowell Jr

    Why shoudn’t the US Postal Service recieve a bail out from the Fed Gov? Why is the postal sevice treated differently from companies like Gen Motors and all those other companies who were bailed out? It so easy for those who don’t have to worry about lay offs to be so eager to see the P.O. fail. We all need our jobs and have worked hard to earn the pay and benifits that we have. If Congress is allowed to void the no lay off clauses in our negotiated contracts, whats going to be next?