Wayne County, MI
AFL - CIO
Vice President's Report
May / June 2018
20 Years of the Dispute Resolution Process: A Successful Failure
In spring 1998, the NALC and Postal Service began “testing” a revised grievance procedure. An updated and more efficient process for addressing workplace contractual disputes was badly needed after decades of protracted grievance wars in post office stations throughout the United States. An increasingly antagonistic and disrespectful postal management philosophy first developed during the 1970s and continued throughout the 1980s, becoming widespread by the 1990s.
Here in Branch 2184 we frequently were on the front lines of often prolonged labor/management wars. As many as 6000-7000 grievances a year were being initiated throughout much of the 1990s, all in an NALC Branch with about 800 active members at the time. Branch 2184 even acquired the dubious nickname of a “grievance mill.” It was not a badge that we wore proudly, even if our only option was to dig in and fight.
Yes, we “won” thousands of grievances, but this came at an entirely unacceptable cost to our members as well as to the Branch itself. Many grievances took years to resolve, sometimes with serious consequences for our members because of the long delay in achieving justice on their behalf. Additionally, the cost of Contract enforcement came at the expense of other Branch services on behalf of our members. The system was indisputably broken, and something had to be done to at least attempt to fix it.
A New Approach
That “something” turned out to be what is still known as the Dispute Resolution Process, a revision of the contractual grievance procedure that is found in Article 15 of our Collective Bargaining Agreement. The USPS Detroit District was one of those chosen to allegedly test the revised process, although we later realized that NALC National leadership (and perhaps also Postal leadership) had already determined in advance that the new grievance process would be adopted.
The new process was thoroughly debated at the NALC’s 1998 National Convention in Las Vegas. I was one of the delegates that spoke against the immediate adoption of the new process, expressing concerns that perhaps this was too hasty and had not been adequately enough thought out. After a lengthy debate the delegates voted to adopt the new grievance process and it was soon thereafter implemented on a national scale.
The new procedure consisted of four basic steps just as its predecessor did, but there were also some significant differences. As before, the first two steps were local, at the NALC branch level. However, grievances that remain unresolved locally were then sent to a USPS District level “Dispute Resolution Team” (Step B), which consisted of one union representative and one management counterpart.
Dearborn steward Tim Bailey was selected as one of the NALC’s Step B Team representatives, and 20 years later he is the longest serving union Step B representative in the United States. Tim’s job has been anything but easy, dealing not only with difficult
and obstructionist management representatives but also criticism from his own union cohort when we disagreed with his decisions or the reasoning applied to them (and no one has been tougher on Tim than I have). Through it all Tim has been a true union
warrior, although one with an impossible mission.
For Better And For Worse
The revised Dispute Resolution Process has accomplished some of its intended purpose. The grievance procedure is somewhat more streamlined than what previously existed. However, grievance backlogs still exist in many USPS installations, solely due to management obstruction of the process. In his June 2018 article in the Postal Record, NALC National Vice-President Lew Drass noted than in some USPS Districts the intent of the new process has not been realized because too many grievances are not being resolved at the local level. The USPS Detroit District happens to be one of those, and several Branch 2184-represented post office stations are culprits in management’s sabotage of the process.
Additionally, there has been a disturbing trend toward phony “win-win” outcomes, even where postal management is entirely and undeniably in the wrong. This “throw them a bone” mentality is one of many reasons (in my opinion) that far too many supervisors as well as higher level management personnel have no respect whatsoever for our labor contract and for negotiated work rules. Additionally, whereas management previously paid a price for procedural and technical errors, especially with disciplinary actions, there now is a greater tendency to overlook inaccuracy and sloppiness of their
– Still Nowhere To Be Found
However, by far the biggest failure of the current grievance process is its complete absence of accountability for postal management. Flagrant Contract violations and abusive management conduct still exists on a widespread basis throughout the United States. They will lie, cheat, and steal with virtual impunity, knowing that there will be no real consequences for their behavior. As a pertinent example, there have been dozens of recent cases of clock ring fraud committed by management (altering and deleting clock rings, often resulting in wage theft). Some of this has occurred here in the Detroit District – and those are just the times that they were caught.
This egregious behavior is tacitly and sometimes directly encouraged and condoned at every level of the USPS hierarchy. Numerous jointly negotiated National level memorandums and agreements to address hostile workplace environments have invariably become pathetic jokes in practice. Bad faith behavior on the part of management typically is rewarded instead of punished. An employer such as the Postal Service that openly disrespects its workforce as matter of policy and practice is all but
certain to also disrespect its labor contract.
Additionally, it is undeniable that the Postal Service now employs far more utterly unqualified individuals in management positions than ever before in its history. It is now apparent that there are no remaining standards or qualifications for USPS supervisory positions. Basic management and leadership skills such as the ability to plan, to communicate in an intelligent and respectful manner, and to utilize critical thinking and analysis are nonexistent with far too many Postal Service supervisory personnel. It is all but impossible to hold a supervisor accountable when he or she has no business being in a position of authority to begin with.
Unless the Postal Service undergoes a transformational redirection of its entire management philosophy to one that demands respect, cooperation, and real accountability from its leaders at every level, no dispute resolution process ever
invented can truly be successful. Moreover, I am not optimistic that USPS management will ever sincerely attempt to change its deeply rooted culture of managerial arrogance and disrespect.
After 20 years of the current grievance procedure, it is somewhat of an improvement over its predecessor. However, the underlying labor relations environment in the Postal Service is more broken than ever. The outside of the apple might appear to be shiny, but its core remains completely rotten.
-- Joe Golonka