(February 19, 2013) Earlier today, the three-member arbitration panel established to determine the terms of the 2011 National Agreement between the National Postal Mail Handlers Union and the U.S. Postal Service released its Award. The Award is dated February 15, 2013, and is effective on that day, but was not released until today, Tuesday, February 19, 2013. The panel awarded a contract which runs for four and one-half years, from November 21, 2011 through May 20, 2016. A copy of the full Award, covering seventy-two pages, is available, below, as a PDF attachment.
The Award fully protects the jobs and careers and living standards of all 42,000 career mail handlers now employed by the Postal Service. After a two-year wage freeze, it restores, starting in November 2013 and continuing through May 2016, the historic pattern of annual general wage increases and semi-annual cost-of-living adjustments for all current mail handlers. In particular, the Award contains three general wage increases for all career employees – 1.0% in November 2013, 1.5% in November 2014, and 1.0% in November 2015 – as well as seven COLAs to be paid from March 2014 through March 2016. These wage and COLA increases follow the pattern previously established by the negotiated contract governing the American Postal Workers Union, and by the arbitrated contracts governing the National Rural Letter Carriers Association and the National Association of Letter Carriers.
The Award also continues the pattern, starting next year, of increasing employee contributions toward health insurance by 1% per year; and it includes, effective immediately, a small upward adjustment in night shift differential (of 7 cents per hour) and of clothing allowance. The Award also provides full no-layoff protection, consistent with prior practice, for any and all career mail handlers hired on or before November 20, 2011.
At the same time, the Award substantially changes the workforce that will be allowed to perform mail handler work in the future. In the larger facilities, all part-time flexible employees will be converted to full-time regular, the number of casuals will be reduced to 5.0%, and a new category of bargaining unit employee will be created. More specifically, these changes include the following:
- Within 180 days of the Award (by August 14, 2013), all current part-time flexible employees working in the larger postal installations (those with 200 or more workyears of employment) will be converted into full-time regular employees. Those few part-time flexible mail handlers still working in smaller facilities then should be able to transfer to a larger installation and be converted automatically to full-time regular status, if they so desire, although the part-time flexible status will remain for mail handlers in the smaller installations.
- Rather than the current 12.5% casual employees who are outside the NPMHU bargaining unit, the Award establishes a workforce that is no more than 5.0% casual employees, measured and counted by installation. This reduced number of casuals will now be authorized to work without being restricted by the “in lieu of” clause under Article 7.1B of the National Agreement, with each individual casual allowed to work up to 360 days per year.
- The Award creates a new category of noncareer mail handler employee called the Mail Handler Assistant, or MHA. The MHA category will serve as the entry point for all future career mail handlers to be hired by the Postal Service. A maximum of 15% of mail handlers in any district may be MHAs, with a cap of 20% in any particular installation. Unlike casuals, MHAs will be members of the NPMHU bargaining unit, will be hired based on the postal exam and other routine hiring criteria, and will be eligible for conversion to career status based on their relative standing. Although MHAs will work flexible hours and may be separated for lack of work, many other provisions of the National Agreement will apply to their employment, and the Union will be able to represent them in the grievance and arbitration process. Starting pay for new MHAs has been set at $13.75 per hour at Level 4 and $14.50 per hour at Level 5, but those amounts will be increased by a total of 7% during the remaining years of this Agreement. MHAs also will have limited access to subsidized health insurance in accordance with the Affordable Care Act.
- Significantly, future career employees (those hired after February 15, 2013) will be placed on a revised pay scale that reduces entry pay, but contains seventeen step increases of more than $1,300, providing guaranteed increases in pay every 52 weeks, with top pay at Step P being precisely the same of current career mail handlers. The wage scale governing future career employees will continue to be adjusted upward by general wage increases and COLA increases, although the COLA before top Step P will be proportional to Step P. The USPS demand for a permanent two-tier pay scale was rejected.
- Also rejected by the arbitration panel were a series of draconian proposals from the Postal Service, including absolutely no general wage increases for career employees, no cost-of-living adjustments, and a drastic increase in employee contributions for health insurance to the current rate paid by federal employees. Another proposal from the Postal Service sought to modify, and effectively eliminate, the current no lay-off clause. In addition, the Postal Service sought the authority to hire and to utilize, without any contractual restrictions whatsoever, a total of 25% casual employees. Finally, for new career mail handlers hired in the future, the Postal Service proposed that their pay rates be 20% lower at the entry level and 20% lower at the maximum level.
The arbitration panel was chaired by Herbert Fishgold, a longstanding arbitrator and mediator with decades of experience. The NPMHU-appointed member of the arbitration panel was Robert Weinberg, from the law firm of Bredhoff & Kaiser, PLLC, which also is the home of NPMHU General Counsel Bruce Lerner. USPS counsel Robert Dufek was the Postal Service’s appointed arbitrator.
The Award follows fifteen months of work by the NPMHU, including its National Officers, the National CAD, its legal staff, and a series of expert witnesses and consultants who diligently prepared the union’s case for the interest arbitration proceeding.
A complete copy of the Fishgold Award is attached, including new wage and night differential schedules, new and updated contract language, and new and amended Memoranda of Understanding and Letters of Intent. A fuller description of the Award will be provided in publications to be circulated by the National Office, and during the Semi-Annual Meeting of the Local Unions already scheduled for the first week of April 2013.
We thank our NPMHU membership for its continuous patience and support during this lengthy and sometimes frustrating 2011 round of negotiations.