Clerk Division Director
(This article by first appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
Computerized bidding is undoubtedly here to stay, but until recently, problems with the Postal Service’s Human Resources Shared Services Center (HRSSC) have thoroughly frustrated employees, local union representatives and national officers alike. Since the Shared Services Center opened five years ago, almost all personnel services have been centralized in the Greensboro NC office.
The computerization of personnel services through www.liteblue.usps.gov can be convenient for employees who are comfortable using computers, however when problems arise, too frequently the system breaks down.
Fortunately, at the national level we recently have made progress resolving some persistent problems associated with the Shared Services Center. But problems remain, so union members and local officers will have to continue to be vigilant in protecting bidding rights.
Posting and Bidding: HRSSC’s one-size-fits-all approach often makes compliance with local contracts or past practices difficult. Shared Services still has not explained occurrences around the country where senior bidders were deemed “eligible” but bypassed by the computer, which awarded duty assignments to junior bidders.
Management says instances of employees accessing other employee’s bids through liteblue (without the employee’s ID or password) in the Dakotas District have been remedied by a “local fix,” but HRSSC has been unable to explain what caused the problem or tell us whether it happened elsewhere.
HRSSC generally fails to keep track of the exceptions in Article 12.3.A of the Collective Bargaining Agreement on limits on the number of bids employees can exercise, resulting in employees being improperly deemed “ineligible” to bid. The system also incorrectly informs probationary fulltime regular employees that they are not permitted to bid.
A word to the wise: If you are denied the opportunity to bid through computerized bidding, see your local steward and find out why.
Retreat Rights: The 2006-2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement included a requirement that a written request for retreat rights by excessed Clerk Craft employees would serve as a bid for all vacancies within their level in the installation from which they were reassigned.
During 2010 negotiations, the APWU reminded the Postal Service that the HRSSC computer still had not been programmed to accommodate this requirement! The union initiated national-level disputes in 2006 and 2011 protesting management’s failure to adhere to the 2006 agreement.
As a result of the union’s actions, we have been assured the HRSSC computers will be re-programmed — but not until late 2012. Until then, local union officers will need to police this vigorously.
Uniform Allowance: HRSSC refuses to include uniform allowances on bids even though the previous bidding system (HRIS) did. As a result, when part-time flexibles and part-time regulars were converted to full-time regulars in August 2011, the computer improperly terminated the uniform allowances of thousands of Clerk Craft employees. HRSSC has acknowledged the error, but as we go to press, we are still awaiting confirmation that it has been corrected. If you are improperly denied a uniform allowance, contact your local steward.
Retirement: One member who requested paperwork for the Civil Service Retirement System was incorrectly sent a packet for the Federal Employees Retirement System. When he contacted Shared Services to request the correct material, he was told that the system “would not permit” HRSSC to send him a “second package.” Three separate phone calls, answered by three different technicians, resulted in the same absurd answer. Like many computerized systems, when the HRSSC system breaks down, it truly breaks down!
PSE Health Benefits Eligibility: The 2010-2015 Collective Bargaining Agreement grants eligibility for health benefits to Postal Support Employees after one year of service. For those electing coverage under the APWU Consumer Driven Plan, the USPS agreed to cover 75 percent of the premium cost.
In Wichita KS and Salt Lake City UT, Transitional Employees from the Remote Encoding Center (REC) sites with at least a year of service (and a break in service of not more than five days) who converted to PSE were immediately eligible for this benefit. Apparently, no one at HRSSC was notified. These brothers and sisters were incorrectly notified that they must pay full premiums and, worse yet, their paychecks reflected the same. What an unpleasant surprise.
Thankfully, this problem is now being addressed. However, the USPS has contracted out the reprogramming of PostalEASE software, and the fix is expected to take months. In the meantime, the Accounting Service Center must manually enter all the data for our members to enjoy this benefit. PSEs who become eligible for APWU Consumer Driven Health coverage are advised to see their shop steward if they experience such difficulties with the HRSSC.
Communication: Perhaps the most frustrating thing for our members and their local union representatives has been the inability to communicate directly with anyone at HRSSC when problems arose. If someone gave you an incorrect answer, it was virtually impossible to find someone with the authority to correct the error. When jobs get posted incorrectly, there is no way to determine who made the mistake or how to correct it for the future.
For years, we have experienced the same problem at the national level – our only recourse was to contact management’s national Labor Relations Department and then wait months for a response.
Finally, the good news: At long last, the union at the national level has been provided with a direct contact at the HRSSC. The better news: It actually works. In November and December 2011 we contacted HRSSC with problems and they were corrected. One case involved an employee who was unable to get the USPS to properly deduct health insurance premiums; the other case involved an employee who was repeatedly told (incorrectly) that she was ineligible for a local VERA offer.
In both cases, the errors were corrected within a few days. Members who experience difficulties dealing with Shared Services should report the problems to their local steward or officer. The local union may forward any problems with HRSSC which cannot be resolved locally to the Clerk Division at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will do our best to assist you.