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ADR ~ It Won't Work
Article 16 of the National Agreement guarantees us protection against management issuing discipline without just cause. As basic as this idea might seem, the need for such an article written into our contract is essential.
The authors many years ago more than likely wrote Article 16 as a final measure that was only to be used in a last ditch effort. I doubt if they ever envisioned that we would be swimming in grievances that have brought the grievance-arbitration procedures to a complete standstill.
Next month the National Association of Letter Carriers and the United States Postal Service begin implementing an Alternate Dispute Resolution process designed to clean up a 30,000 grievance backlog that is growing. I panned this idea a few months ago as a bad idea, and as of this writing my faith in its success has not changed.
Never mind the fact the Postal Service will never live up to its end of the bargain, which it won't and we know it, let's think about the process itself.
One of the basic elements of the ADR Joint Statement of Expectations is:
"We will work together to prevent contract violations through communication, training, and good faith efforts to anticipate workplace problems and resolve disputes in a timely manner."
Management has absolutely no intention of honoring this principle. You know it, I know and the three people who signed the Statement know it. But those working away from the battlefield seem to be blind to what is going on.
From what I read about the plan for the ADR to work, a management person and a union representative will meet to determine the plausibility of either keeping a grievance active or ending it at the Step 3 level. Once this "highly" trained pair begin to work their way through the maize of grievances the potential of applying rubber stamped solutions exists.
Even with that aside, the process is not an attempt to stop the problem. There aren't any plans being brought forward that display a willingness to end management's disregard for the National Agreement. And we shouldn't expect to see any in the near future.
After all this is a contract year. All efforts to look like it is working with the union to make life better for the employees is a smoke screen.
The union has a stake in the success of any endeavor to make our working environment safe and protected from a misguided management. The Postal Service could care less. It is grandstanding at its finest.
If the Postal Service were sincere in this adventure, then it would work with the NALC by setting up an equal partner plan to train union officers and its managers in the same class room. The trainees would be learning from identical books. The joint Contract Interpretation Manual would be a good bench mark, thus eliminating any confusion about who learned what.
One of the problems with our current system is the training union officers and stewards receive far exceed anything management understands. To correct this, we all need to be on the same page with the same ideas and the same thought process.
I certainly don't suggest we become pals with management, as some might read into this. Rather, we need to begin to understand the scope of our responsibilities, striving to work within our own circle.
From our standpoint, management refuses to do this. Maybe on a national level management and the union agree that this is a good approach, but until both of those sides get the District levels, where much of the local authority is taking place now, under control nothing will change.
The Alternate Dispute Resolution Process has a tremendous potential to be a good stepping stone to improve the grievance procedure. But, we should never be disillusioned with a fact that it will make our lives better in our work environment. You don't sign agreements expecting people to change an abusive attitude. It just doesn't work that way.
I have said before, and I continue to say, the ADR won't work. Not because of the union's involvement, rather from management's refusal to abide by our contract. If anyone expects anything different, then he or she should begin issuing rose colored glasses.
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.