|Outlook November / December 2019|
The Call Is Heeded
|Recently I have written several articles on the importance of political awareness. Our jobs at the USPS are inextricably entwined with politics. The Board of Governors of the USPS is made up of nine members who are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Those nine then choose the Postmaster General who becomes the tenth board member. Then those ten choose a Deputy Postmaster who becomes the eleventh member on the Board of Governors. The PMG and the Deputy PMG serve at the preference of the nine appointees. There can be no more than five board members from the same political party.
As you can see, the President can stack the deck in his favor. The Board controls how the Postal Service spends its money, reviews its practices and conducts long-range planning, all of which could result in the downfall of the Postal Service as we know it. Consider this: the President created a Task Force earlier this year to look into the Postal Service’s operations to make recommendations on changes to the Board of Governors which was appointed by him. He can now proceed to make a case to privatize.
By now I hope that you are asking yourself what can be done. I’m glad you asked. The NALC has a Political Action Committee (PAC), the Letter Carrier Political Fund (LCPF). Every one of you can contribute to LCPF via an allotment through PostalEASE, an EFT contribution from your checking account, or through a voluntary monthly deduction from your annuity if you are retired. The money collected goes into the war chests of those members of Congress who have our best interests in mind. The money is also used to elect new members who will do the same.
A while ago, President Charles Heege reached out to the shop stewards in Branch 36 and asked each one to locate a place in their zoned area where we could meet, eat and discuss LCPF with their carriers, and get them signed up for automatic deductions through PostalEASE. So far we have met twice, once in East Harlem and once in the Bronx. Everyone who attended the meetings signed up. After understanding what’s at risk and realizing the perils of doing nothing, contributing only made sense. The call was heeded.
FED-EX and UPS have their own PACS. And unlike the NALC who has to rely on voluntary contributions, those companies can make direct political contributions to members of Congress which will give them what they want most, untethered access to the mailboxes across the country. Lose our sole access to the mailboxes and our jobs go with it.
Hopefully after reading this article, you will go to your local steward and have her or him look for a local eatery where the Branch can bring this message directly to you. I look forward to meeting each and every one of you at such events. Until next time, I wish you the very best during the upcoming Holiday Season and thereafter.
|Outlook September / October 2019|
Consolidated Casing Test
|Those of you who were carrying mail in April 1974 might remember a pilot test called “Letter Carrier Route Evaluation System” (LCRES). The test would initially be conducted in South Kokomo Station in Kokomo, Indiana. The “Kokomo Plan,” as it would be soon called, involved establishing work and time standards for letter carriers and then putting these standards into a computer program. The computer would then determine an eight hour day for each individual carrier.
For those who were not around back then let me assure you, I am not making this up, it really happened. When the test began in November of 1974 two carriers from Branch 36 went to Kokomo, one reported the following:
“The efficiency experts measured and timed how far a carrier walks to and from the time clock, and how he walks in pulling his case. The distance the carrier’s arm moves in casing a letter was noted. They even measured to the split second the time it took for the carrier to move his eyes from the letter to the case and the time it took for the carrier to move his eyes from the case back to the next letter. At this rate, if you sneezed, you could be charged with delay in the mail.”
By February of 1975, the pilot had expanded to Rose City Park station in Portland, Oregon. After eight months of testing of the original 38 carriers, nine transferred, three retired, two were disabled and one died. On September 8, 1975, the postal service announced that the program would be made permanent at Rose City. The next day the NALC filed for arbitration of the dispute. In August of 1976 the NALC’s position was upheld and at the National Convention, NALC President Rademacher announced, “Kokomo is dead.”
In the early 1990s, DPS began to filter its way into the work floor across the country and management had another great idea, “route stabilization.” The postal service calculated the amount of office time that DPS would save in the office and wanted to adjust the routes in stations based on the savings before DPS was even implemented in those stations. The idea was that “Routers” would also case a huge portion of the routes which would further reduce the carriers’ office time and the routes would be extended to ensure more street time. The carriers begin tours were changed. They came in later and delivered more mail.
A national dispute was filed using the installation in Hempstead, NY as the representative case and went to arbitration. By 1992 the NALC had entered into Memorandums of Understanding with the postal service concerning DPS issues. The Memos covered case configurations in the DPS environment, how many bundles could be carried, the methodology that would be used to estimate DPS impact, and the prohibition of Hempstead-type adjustments.
In the early part of 1996, the postal service established a “Delivery Redesign Team.” The DRT was mandated to review all city delivery procedures. The goal was to develop new performance standards for carriers in the office and the street. Using the new standards carriers were expected to work faster and deliver more mail. The DRT also envisioned two classes of carriers, those that cased the mail and those that delivered it.
Later that year the USPS came up with yet another initiative called “Methods Improvement and Work Measurement Study.” Although the NALC was assured that both projects were independent it quickly became apparent by using them together the postal service was attempting to change the work standards of letter carriers. By January 1997 the studies were being performed in twenty sites around the country. It should be noted that any proposed changes to work and time standards are subjects that can and would be grieved at the national level as violations of Article 34 of the Contract. On March 3, 2006, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed by our National President and the manager of Labor Relations in Washington addressing both studies. The memo stated that no changes were made to time and work standards and that any pending violations of Article 8 (overtime) would be resolved. The veiled attempt to change letter carrier working conditions went away for the time being.
On June 19, 2006 I attended a meeting scheduled by the USPS NE Area Vice President David Solomon. There were representatives of five separate postal unions in the room. The meeting began innocently enough but that soon changed. After speaking briefly about the financial condition of the postal service he introduced the Flats Sequencing System (FSS) to those present.
Solomon stated that FSS would reduce office hours and the goal was to reduce the workforce in turn and admitted openly that he did not care about future craft employees. He made the intentions of the USPS very clear.
Although the biggest impact of FSS would be to the clerk craft, by 2008, for the protection of letter carriers, the NALC signed on to at least four MOUs that addressed FSS work methods. In the early part of 2011, the postal service began installing 100 FSS machines in plants across the country. Having had the foresight to see the service’s intentions from the onset, one of the MOU’s addressed how to review route adjustments in offices where flats arrived in sequenced order.
In 2010 the postal service came up with an idea of having some carriers case mail and others deliver it, “Casers and Deliverers” in a station. On March 18, 2011 the NALC and the USPS signed an agreement to jointly explore alternative route structures; to improve and replace the failed concept. Two of the rules of the MOU were that the “Casers and Deliverers” idea was out and that there would be no interference from the district, area of headquarter levels while the plans were built at the local level. After violating both rules for five months, in August of that same year the postal service opted out of the agreement. In a letter sent to NALC Headquarters management stated their intentions to renew the concept of caser/deliverer unilaterally in 21 zones across the country.
Initially all the zones picked were FSS sites that had not had the routes adjusted. Soon after, the Union was notified that adjustments being made were not FSS adjustments but something else. They were attempting to adjust routes using the caser/deliverer concept. The postal service ultimately withdrew the idea of adjusting routes using this idea which brings us to where we are today.
The postal service sent a letter to NALC headquarters in Washington, DC dated April 8, 2019. The letter served as notice of management’s intention to conduct a pilot test called “Consolidated Casing.” Their latest and brightest idea is to renew their failed attempts to have two classes of carriers, casers/deliverers, and change the configuration of the carrier cases. The carrier cases will no consist of one “124” case (with ledge) and two “144” cases (no ledge). Each case will have six shelves and the dividers will one inch apart across for the entire three cases. Each of the three cases will have an entire route associated with it. The labels will have the ability of being flipped to allow the casing of three additional routes for a total of six routes.
The caser will begin her/his tour between 5 and 5:30 in the morning; proceed to case the mail for the initial three routes; prepare the relays and the carry out mail for the three routes; flip the labels and repeat the process for the remaining three routes. One of the final three routes will be the caser’s to deliver. The deliverers will come in at 8 and 9 AM. The first wave will deliver the first routes that are cased and the second wave will deliver the second round of routes. At this moment there are many questions that have yet to be answered:
· Who is responsible for the beats?
I’m sure you can come up with at least another 20 to 30 questions on your own.
The point I am trying to make here is that this is not the first attempt by management to change the way we do our work or try to take away our bid assignments, this is just their latest attempt. There is a national grievance that will be heard by an arbitrator this December. The NALC has filed a federal lawsuit to place an injunction on this test but it is still in the courts. I will end this article by giving you the answers to two particular questions asked by carriers in Baychester Station in the Bronx, where this test will begin on October 7, 2019. The person that gave the stand-up talk at the station was Area Manager Colin Craigwell.
Question: How is this pilot working where it has already begun?
Neither one of these answers is remotely true. It seems that reality and/or telling the truth is beyond some people’s capabilities. I will be keeping you informed of the progress of the test or lack thereof.
|Outlook July / August 2019|
Our Legislative Work is Never Over
|On May 15 through May 17 of this year, the New York State Association of Letter Carriers sent a legislative delegation to Washington, DC to lobby their respective representatives in Congress for their support on postal issues. The good news is that the Congressional Representatives in New York State passed five House Resolutions that are key in keeping the Postal Service a viable entity.
HR 2382 would eliminate the prefunding mandate of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. At a cost of approximately $5.4 billion annually since 2007, it accounts for 92% of the Postal Service’s reported losses for the last 12 years and 100% over the last six years. If not for this mandate the USPS would have had a surplus of nearly $4 billion since 2013. It should be noted that Congressman Chris Collins of Congressional District 27, who has never signed a bill supported by the NALC, is a cosponsor of this bill, and because he cosponsored it, it passed unanimously amongst the New York Congressional Districts. Personally, I credit the NALC and the Congressional District Liaisons in District 27 for that seemingly impossible achievement.
HR 23 that addresses door-to-door delivery and HR 33 which opposes the privatization of the USPS also passed with 26 out of 27 cosponsors. They would have passed unanimously in New York but, you guessed it, Chris Collins did not cosponsor them.
HR 54 would maintain the six-day delivery and passed 25 out of 27 with Ocasio-Cortez and Collins not on board as of yet. HR 60 that would restore service standards was also passed in New York with 24 out of 27 cosponsors. Elise Stefanik from Congressional District 21, Yvette Clark from District 9 and again Chris Collins have not cosponsored the bill.
Congressional District 21 covers the northern part of the state and District 27 is just east of Buffalo so it would not be reasonable to expect letter carriers from Branch 36 to call those offices and ask them to cosponsor bills that are supported by the NALC. However, District 9 is entirely in Brooklyn and I’m certain that there are more than a handful of Branch 36 members who are represented by Congresswoman Yvette Clark. I urge everyone who lives in her District to call her office (718.287.1142) and ask for her support on HR 60.
I will never ask a member to do something that I was not willing to do so as soon as I finish writing this article I will be giving my Representative, Ms. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, AKA AOC, a phone call and ask for her support on HR 54; and while I have her or someone from her office on the line, there’s a lamppost on my block that needs fixing, lol. By going to Washington to lobby I’ve learned that our Representatives love contact with their constituents, be it in person or by phone.
I have stated in previous articles how important it is for letter carriers to be politically active because there is a constant attack on our livelihoods in D.C. You can start by logging on to the NALC.org website and learning about how decisions made on Capitol Hill affect the postal service and what you can do to make a difference. You can also find the telephone number of your Representative and information on how to contribute to the Letter Carrier Political Fund (LCPF). I don’t think that $1 a pay period is too much to ask for, considering that all the money collected is used to keep our friends in Washington in office, and to get new friends elected.
So until next time, enjoy the rest of the summer and keep yourselves informed on political issues that can affect the USPS
|Outlook May / June 2019|
Complacency: What’s at Stake
|In my previous article I gave an overview of how the Postal Service and politics are intertwined and how the NALC has been engaged in what has been a never ending struggle to fend off those who would do us harm; the harm being an attack on our wages and benefits as well as our current right to bargain in good faith for the very same. It should be no surprise to anyone that the current administration likes to “stack the deck” and is not grounded in reality for the most part. Therefore, it makes sense that when he signed Executive Order 13829, creating the Task Force on the United States Postal Service, Trump would appoint Steven T. Mnuchin who is currently the Secretary of the Treasury and also one of his yes-men, as its chairman. The Task Force is supposed to look at the state of the Postal Service and give its recommendations to the president. Given the track record of Trump’s cabinet I expect the report to endorse his agenda to privatize the most popular government agency in the country, the USPS.
Let’s take a closer look at Mr. Mnuchin. Mnuchin knows how to make money alright. What’s concerning is how he does it. It appears to me that he’s been amassing wealth at the expense of those who can least afford to lose what little they have. Before the financial crisis of 2008, Mnuchin spent two decades at Goldman Sachs where he headed the mortgage department.
While there he implemented the same kind of products that led to the crash in the housing market. In 2009 he put together a group of wealthy investors and bought a failing mortgage lender, IndyMac. Mnuchin then sold the bank, which became OneWest, for more than twice the purchase price. A large part of that profit was attributed to the foreclosures of over 36,000 homes.
On October 15, 2018, Sears, founded in 1893 and previously the nation’s leading retail store, filed for bankruptcy. On April 17, 2019, Sears Holding Corp. filed a lawsuit against its former chairman, Eddie Lambert, as well as former board members including Steven Mnuchin. The lawsuit in part accuses Lambert in concert with other defendants of transferring billions of dollars of the Company’s (Sears) assets to himself and shareholders. It also accuses Lambert of siphoning the largest share of the value of those assets to himself and ESL a hedge fund he controls. Mnuchin is an investor in ESL and its former vice chairman.
After Sears declared bankruptcy the responsibility of administering the pensions of over 90,000 workers to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. The PBGC is a government agency that oversees the pensions of workers whose employer has gone out-of-business. It was created by an Act of Congress the Employee Retirement Income Security Act in 1974. In a letter sent to Mnuchin on May 23, 2019, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) both expressed their concern about the fact that as Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin is one of three on the Board of Governors of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC).
By now you might be getting an idea of the person Trump put in charge of the Task Force on USPS and what his recommendations for the future of the Postal Service may look like.
I must admit I have no idea how Mnuchin can make money through the privatization of the Postal Service, however, as I mentioned earlier there is no doubt in my mind that he will dance to Trump’s tune in his report. The good news is that we have many friends in Congress and the Senate to stave off any attempt to dismantle the most trusted government agency in the United States, the USPS. You have the ability to ensure that we keep those friends in office and help new friends get elected.
You can start by calling your Congressional Representative and ask if she or he is a cosponsor of House Resolutions:
You can also keep up to date with political issues that can affect you by downloading the NALC app. The website covers contractual issues.
And I urge each and every one of you to donate as little as $1 to the Letter Carrier Political Fund through an automatic deduction from your paychecks. You can find out how to do this in the website as well.
As a reminder here are some of the things that are currently in the White House FY 2019 Budget Proposal:
Until next time, have a great summer!
|Outlook March / April 2019|
How We Got Here
|Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this article, I think it’s important to give you a brief history on what is now known as the United States Postal Service. The Postal Service has been controlled by the government since its inception in 1775. That’s not a typo. This country had a postal system before there was an official country.
In the early years all the positions in the post office, from the postmasters down to the letter carriers, were appointed by politicians. Those who were fortunate enough to get hired were expected to campaign on their behalf. Job security was directly connected to your political affiliation. It was legal to replace employees that were not in the same party as the current elected officials. There would be little change in the system until 1883 when Congress passed the Pendleton Act. This was the first civil service law.
Among other things, the law provided that letter carriers had to take a competitive test. From then on, the letter carrier position did not depend on what party you belonged to, nor could you be legally fired for political reasons. Although this was a step in the right direction there was still much more that needed to change.
Now that politicians could not rely on carriers to campaign for them Congress began to care less and less for their welfare. This in turn had an unanticipated outcome. Carriers realized that since they could not count on help from Congress, they had to look out for each other and began to get organized around the country. A New York letter carrier association was founded in 1863; another was founded in Chicago in 1870. These associations realized how important it was to have friends in Congress that could address issues that could not otherwise be resolved.
The eight-hour work day, vacation time and regular pay for carriers did not exist. In fact, how much vacation time a carrier would get and how much he or she made depended on the size of the city they worked in. Although Congress passed an eight-hour law in 1868 for federal workers, the Post Office Department refused to comply. It wasn’t until 1888 that along with lobbying and the help of Samuel “Sunset” Cox, a Congressman from New York, a bill was passed creating the eight-hour work day for letter carriers. Seeing what could be accomplished by working together for better working conditions, letter carriers decided to organize a union. On August 29, 1889 in a meeting hall above Schaefer’s Saloon in Milwaukee, the NALC was born. The next day the NALC’s first president was elected and an Executive Board was appointed to coordinate legislative efforts.
In the following years a series of executive actions prohibiting postal employees from visiting Washington DC to influence legislation were issued. Apparently, the government saw the potential of carriers to succeed in their efforts to lobby for better working conditions and tried to suppress them. In the 1900’s, several gag orders were ordered forbidding carriers from lobbying Congress for wage increases, permitting the dismissal of employees without notice and banning carriers from discussing their working conditions in public. Through all this the NALC continued with their political efforts wherever and whenever possible.
The Post Office Department and Congress treated postal employees different than other federal workers. This changed in 1912 when the Lloyd-Lafollette Act was enacted rescinding the gag orders. The Act also gave postal workers the right to organize and join labor organizations but not to strike. The same year Congress passed two other bills that were equally important. The Reilly Eight-In-Ten-Hour Act specified that postal employees could not be required to spread their eight-hour shift over a period of more than 10 consecutive hours. The Mann Sunday Closing mandated the closing of post offices on Sunday.
There were many roadblocks and successes along the way, but I will fast forward to 1962. By Executive Order 10988, President John F. Kennedy established a formal labor relations program in the federal government. The struggles of the letter carriers were paying off. Later that year, the NALC gained the right to represent all letter carriers in grievance discussions and negotiate a contract, but those negotiations would exclude wages, hours and fringe benefits. Worst yet was the fact that although the Post Office Department had to negotiate with the NALC, there was no way to enforce the agreement. Management could disregard parts of the agreement simply by claiming an emergency.
Although there had been several modest wage increases through the years, by the mid-1960s the wages of letter carriers still lagged well behind workers in the private sector. In fact in some states, carrier wages were so low that they were eligible to receive food stamps and Medicaid. On June 20, 1969, with their patience wearing thin, over 2000 frustrated carriers protested in front of GPO in Manhattan with another 400 postal workers protesting in front of Grand Central Station. On July 1, 1969 almost all the carriers and clerks of Kingsbridge Station called in sick. They were all suspended. The next day 16 out of 36 carriers in Throggs Neck Station called in sick. They too were suspended. The stage was set for what was to follow.
In August of that year, the NALC National President James Rademacher promised the letter carriers in New York that if Congress did not approve a decent raise, he would call for a strike. He hoped that the threat alone would be sufficient to get Congress to act. At the same time, Rademacher was concerned that if a general strike were called only a few would go out. So in December, he met secretly with President Nixon at the White House who agreed to support a 5.4 percent increase effective January 1, 1970. Rademacher also agreed with the creation of a “postal authority” which would bargain with the postal unions over wages, hours, working conditions and binding arbitration. When this became public, the leaders of other postal unions and Congress were outraged for being left out of the negotiations
In the January 1970 Membership Meeting, everyone was furious and rejected the compromise made by Nixon and Rademacher. At the Branch 36 Membership Meeting on March 12, 1970, carriers vehemently raised their voices in favor of a strike instead of accepting the offer. The meeting got out of hand and the leadership agreed to arrange a vote and meet again the following week. At the time Branch 36 was the largest branch in the nation with 7200 members in the Bronx and Manhattan. On March 17, 1970 the vote to strike passed by a margin of 3 to 2 of the members who attended the meeting.
The following day almost every carrier in the Bronx and Manhattan picketed outside post offices along with over 25,000 postal clerks and drivers. Later that morning, carriers and postal workers in Brooklyn, Long Island, northern New Jersey and Connecticut joined the strike. In the following days branches in Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Denver and Chicago also walked out. By March 23rd, there were over 200,000 strikers across the country.
The strike ended on March 25th, but the message sent was loud and clear. Letter carriers were not going to stand by idly accepting empty promises. When the dust had settled, the old post office was now the U.S. Postal Service, there was a wage increase of 14 percent, collective bargaining now included wages, hours and working conditions and arbitration decisions were final and binding. Those brave men and women faced getting fired and imprisonment, but it was worth taking the risk if it meant real changes and a better living for them and their families.
Here are some of the things that are currently in the White House FY 2019 Budget Proposal:
These are some of the things that are at risk. To me $1 doesn’t seem too much to ask for. If you’re not on automatic deduction, please sign up. If you’re retired, you can make contributions through OPM straight from your annuity. If your allotment maxed-out, you can have the deductions come from your checking account. This is too important to stand by and do nothing.
I want to thank the members of Vincent R. Sombrotto Branch 36 for having elected me as your 1st Vice President. I pledge to do my very best to be worthy of your confidence and trust. I especially thank our President, Charles P. Heege, for having chosen me to be on his slate. My goal is to work harder today than I did yesterday, but not as hard as tomorrow, to better the lives of the carriers of the Vincent. R. Sombrotto Branch 36.
P.S.S. Never before or since 1970 has there been a successful strike against the federal government.
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