APWU, retiree, sue USPS and Eagan ASC Manager for improper debt collection practices

The APWU and a retired union member filed a complaint [PDF] in federal court against the Postal Service and a manager in the Accounting Service Center in Eagan MN on April 2, charging they have violated the Debt Collection Act and the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The complaint contends that the USPS and the manager routinely violate the rights of retired employees who have appealed Letters of Demand by improperly instructing the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to withhold portions of retirees’ monthly annuities. Letters of Demand are issued when management alleges an employee is responsible for a financial loss to the Postal Service. The letters are subject to appeal through the grievance procedure and collection of alleged debts must be postponed until appeals have been exhausted.

The complaint asserts that the Postal Service issued a Letter of Demand to Rosebud Grant for more than $75,000, on April 21, 2009, when she was a Self Service Center Technician. Grant disputed the alleged debt, contended she was not responsible for the loss, and filed a grievance, which has not been adjudicated. In accordance with Article 28.4 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM) and the Debt Collection Act, collection of the alleged debt should have been held in abeyance until disposition of the grievance.

The USPS manager disregarded these provisions, the complaint asserts, despite pleas from the local union, the national APWU, and even local managers. Instead, the manager falsely certified that Grant had received “due process” and asked OPM to deduct half of her annuity check each month. OPM honored the manager’s request.

Grant has suffered great financial and emotional distress as a result, the suit says. She “has exhausted her savings and been unable to pay other debts which she would have been able to pay had she received the full annuity payments to which she was entitled. Grant has had to forgo the retirement she has earned and to take on a job to be able to afford the basic necessities of life,” the complaint asserts.

The case is part of a consistent pattern by the manager, which postal officials have failed to correct, the suit alleges.

The complaint notes that:

“The APWU at the National Level has asked the Postal Service’s national labor relations officials to intervene to correct [the manager’s] unlawful practices, and the Postal Service officials reported to the APWU that they are unable to stop [his] practices. As recently as July 8, 2011, Headquarters level labor relations management officials informed the APWU that they have had ‘no luck’ convincing [the manager] to change his unlawful practices.”

Furthermore, the complaint says:

In early January 2012, the Union again brought the situation to the attention of Postal Service officials, including the Postmaster General of the United States. Postal officials promised to investigate, but to date have taken no action to correct the unlawful deductions from annuitants’ retirement payments authorized by [the manager’s] false certifications to OPM on OPM Standard Form 2805.

An Unusual Case

The case is unusual for two reasons: It names an individual manager (along with the Postal Service) as a defendant. This is permissible is this case, APWU attorneys explain, because Grant has no other forum to address her complaint. As a retiree, she didn’t have access to the grievance procedure to protest the violation of her legal rights.

A new provision of Article of 15 of the 2010-2015 Collective Bargaining Agreement allows retirees to file grievances to challenge alleged debts. Despite the new language, however, the manager in question continues to refuse to hold debts in abeyance, the complaint notes.

The case is also unusual because of the admission by top-ranking postal officials that they are powerless to force the manager to adhere to the Collective Bargaining Agreement and federal law.

APWU President Cliff Guffey commented: “The Postal Service’s treatment of Sister Rosebud Grant is outrageous and unjust. Unfortunately, Sister Grant is not the only one in this predicament. This has been a standard practice by the manager named in the lawsuit.

“What is most outrageous is the Postal Service’s inability to make the manager obey the Constitution, the Debt Collection Act and the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”