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December 1997
Vol.1 No. 3 Page 7

Postal Service Working In Dark Not Unsafe

by Thom Green, Editor

"I am writing as a concerned spouse of a Postal Employee.

My wife is a carrier in Phoenix, AZ. She started work this morning at 0500 (PTF). It is now 1830 and she just called me from the route (!) saying that she still had about 1/2 hour to go.

It is dark here now and Her station is in a bad section of town. The routes are in areas that I would not even consider driving through yet alone delivering mail in darkness.

Aren't there any rules or regulation considering the safety of postal employees?? What is the Unions' position on these hours and lack of concern of supervision for the safety of the employees???

Concerned in Phoenix"

(A posting placed in Postal Talk on the Internet November 13, 1997.)

When darkness begins to fall the question of "Is it safe to deliver mail in the dark?" becomes commensurate with every letter carriers' desire to provide the best possible service to his or her customers. Unfortunately, the leadership of the United States Postal Service doesn't share that same attitude, and has gone on record saying that delivering mail in the dark is not unsafe.

During the November 7 labor-management meeting Dawn Partridge, Postmaster Fort Wayne, was asked if carrying mail in the dark was unsafe. Her reply, although not unexpected, was typical. "Delivering mail in the dark is not unsafe."

She alluded that in the past carriers have reported hearing gunfire during the day. As well it was pointed out that most of the accidents carriers have take place during day light hours.

When pressed for a more exacting position on delivering mail in the dark the postmaster took a management approach that has been reflected in a variety of arbitrations dealing with this subject. She said that if carriers were delivering mail in the dark, she was more concerned about those carriers working past the 12 hour time limits.

In a regional arbitration issued by J. Reese Johnston, Jr., Arbitrator, where a letter carrier was fired for refusing to deliver mail in the dark, it was written to re-instate because management worked carrier past the 12 hour time limitations. Officially he was removed for "alleged unsatisfactory performance due to incomplete mail disposition resulting in the delay of mail." It didn't matter that the carrier was having difficulty completing his job in the dark.

On the day in question (October 27) the carrier told management he would not be able to complete his route in eight hours and that he needed one hour and 15 minutes of assistance. Only after he pulled down his route, did his supervisor deny the request. In fact she gave him an extra one hour and 30 minutes from another route to carry.

He returned to the station at 5:00 p.m. upon completing his route and he was sent back out to carry the piece he was given from the other route. Management claims that at 7:15 p.m. he returned to the station, and it was at this time he was ordered to go back out and finish the work.
He refused.

"The amount of undelivered mail was one foot, with 66 pieces of First Class letters and flats. The delivery stops amounted to 21." Management argued that had the carrier called the station he would have been assisted by other carriers.

The grievant's argument was somewhat different. He agreed that he returned to the office at 5:00 p.m., but he did not agree with the amount of time needed to carry the extra mail. This particular piece he was given consisted of three and one-half shelves of mail. The time estimate to deliver this much mail would have taken the regular carrier over three hours to deliver.

In defense of management's claim that the grievant did not attempt to call the post office to ask for more help, he said he could not find a working phone, and "being a stranger to that route, he did not ask any of the patrons to let him use their phone since it was getting dark." Next Column

Upon returning to the post office he explained to the supervisor that it was dark, and "he did not have a flashlight; and the receptacles for the mail in that particular portion of the route were not in numerical order down one side of the street, but were scattered numerically on both sides of the street."

If he were given a flashlight he said he would go back out and finish the route, but he was informed there wasn't a flashlight available. He was told to put the mail on the supervisors' desk. He clocked out at 7:30 p.m.

The next morning he reported to a new duty station and was given a Notice of Removal for the previously listed charges.

In it's charges management invoked Article 16.7: Emergency Procedures. "An employee may be immediately placed on an off-duty status (without pay) by the Employer, but remain on the rolls where the allegation involves intoxication (use of drugs or alcohol), pilferage, or failure to observe safety rules and regulations, or in cases where retaining the employee on duty may result in damage to the U.S. Postal Service property, loss of mail or funds, or where the employee may be injurious to self or others."

The very argument the union places before management that delivering mail in the dark is contradicted by management utilizing this part of the National Agreement. Management claimed the grievant was ordered to return to finish delivering the mail in the dark, and the grievant and the union are claiming that it is unsafe to do so.

In his discussion and ruling, the Arbitrator wrote:

"Based on the facts before me it is clear to me that the grievant did not by his actions on October 27 violate any of the specific circumstances under which the provisions of the emergency procedure can be implemented. The Postal Service attempted to show that, having brought back some mail, the grievant should be responsible for loss of mail or funds, which is not borne out by the facts."

Under Article 16 of the National Agreement it states that discipline must be corrective in nature and not punitive.

"The imposition of discharge on an employee with ten years' service and with no prior record of any discipline appears to this arbitrator to be extremely punitive in nature and not in any way corrective in nature."

Entered as part of the evidence in this case is Section 432.32 Maximum Hours Allowed of the Employee & Labor Relations Manual: "Except as designated in labor agreements for bargaining unit employees or in emergency situation as determined by the PMG (or designee), employees may not be required to work more than 12 hours in once service day. In addition, the total hours of daily service, including scheduled work hours, overtime, and meal time, may not be extended over a period longer than 12 consecutive hours."

As a final and binding settlement the Postal Service was directed to immediately return the grievant to the position he held prior to his removal. It is also directed to make him whole for all monies and other benefits that he lost due to his improper removal.

"The back pay shall consist of forty hours a week at straight time, plus any overtime that the employee who filled his position due to his removal earned during the period of time from October 28 through the date he is returned to duty."

This situation happened in Miami, FL. It was grieved by South Florida Branch No. 1071. According to Laurie Miale, Branch No. 1071 Secretary, who wrote the union's additions and corrections to the Step 3 appeal, the grievant received over $30,000 in full back pay including overtime.

Thom Green is a member of NALC Branch 116 - Fort Wayne, IN. He has been a letter carrier and employee of the US Postal Service for 25 years (October 16, 1972). Thom is a 25 year union member and has been a steward for 20 of those years (off and on). Thom has also been editor of The Summit City Mailbag for 9 years. For the last four years he has served as an NALC DPS Training Coordinator. Thom is also the Editor of Contracts & Conflicts.

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