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Volume 2 - Fall 1999
Special Route Inspections
Letter carriers with overburdened assignments often must put up with constant management challenges to their daily work. This may take the form of excessive supervision, verbal badgering, and disputes over time estimates made on form 3996. As a result, an overburdened assignment typically has a mentally as well as physically debilitating effect on a letter carrier.
However, letter carriers have a very useful and often-underutilized tool for combating the stresses of an assignment that has been improperly adjusted or has become out of adjustment due to growth or other factors. This is a request for a Special Route Inspection, the criteria for which are governed by the provisions of the M-39 handbook, section 271,and incorporated into the National Agreement through Articles 3 and 19, and the 7-21-87 National Memorandum of Understanding, re: Special Count and Inspection - City Delivery Routes. The Joint Contract Administration Manual (JCAM - June 1998) provides a discussion of Special Route Inspections on pages 41-21 through 41-24 and the NALC supplement on 41-24A and 41-24B.
Special route inspections can be initiated by either management or by request from a letter carrier. Commonly, it is a letter carrier that initiates the process. The provisions of the M-39 Section 271.e, 271.g and 271.h apply to carrier initiated special route inspections. The most important of these is 271.g, which states:
Management often fails to timely respond to a letter carrier initiated request for a special route inspection, and otherwise attempts to obstruct the process through phony or undocumented claims of unsatisfactory work performance. As stated in 271.g, a special route inspection must be completed within four weeks of the request. Special route inspections must be conducted in the same manner as formal route inspections, that is a full six-day mail count and completion for form 1838-C, as well as a street inspection on one or more days. When the assignment shows the need for an adjustment, this must be placed into effect within 52 days of the completion of the mail count, in accordance with 211.3 of the M-39, just as with a formal count and inspection.
Arbitrators have held that management's obligations in special route inspection situations goes beyond the adjustment procedures specified in the M-39, 242.122 which states that all regular routes should consist of as nearly eight hours daily work as possible. Rather, the final result must be an eight-hour route. In C-07630 Arbitrator Dilts wrote:
"The methods by which adjustments are made and the results of those adjustments on letter carrier work may be viewed as separable issues under the language of the M-39."
The qualifying language of the M-39, 271.g refers to the route and not the carrier on the route. Thus the absence of the regular carrier for part of the six-week qualifying period is not a factor in determining whether a route qualifies for a special inspection. However, only the incumbent carrier regularly assigned to a route may make a request for a special route inspection per the provisions of the M-39, 271.g and subsequent Memorandum of Understanding on the subject.
Management will frequently attempt to concoct all sorts of creative excuses to avoid conducting a special inspection. Management cannot avoid their obligation to do so by unilaterally providing relief in the form of office or field assistance, or making a route adjustment. Nor can a special inspection be avoided because the office may be undergoing or scheduled for a unit and route review.
A common management tactic is an unsubstantiated claim that that the regular letter carrier assigned to the route is not working efficiently. Any alleged performance deficiencies should be addressed in a timely manner, and not after the fact. Alleged unsatisfactory performance is a bogus excuse for denying a special route inspection unless management has documented both the alleged deficiency and reasonable efforts to toward improving performance to a "satisfactory" level that were made during the 6-week qualifying period.
Additionally, a claim of performance deficiency that is based on subjective data such as DUVRs based mail measurements is invalid. This includes the use of management's treasured computer based programs such as DMET and other mail measurement estimates. The only legitimate method of determining letter carrier office efficiency is an office count and the completion of form 1838-C. Absent this, management has NO valid basis for a claim of unsatisfactory performance.
Management claims of other unsatisfactory conditions such as poor case labels or poor work methods are equally illegitimate. An alleged lack of available route examiners is also an invalid excuse to avoid conducting and completing a special route inspection with four weeks of the carrier's request.
Grievance remedies for deliberate management failure to conduct special route inspections when requested should always include a request for monetary compensation. Arbitrators have frequently granted monetary remedies in such situations. A mere instruction for management to conduct the special route inspection and to refrain from such contractually violative conduct in the future is wholly insufficient. The adage applies that there is no right without remedy.
In the USPS Detroit District, where the test Dispute Resolution Process has been in place for more than 18 months, there have been numerous Step B level decisions awarding up to $900 to letter carriers. These carriers initiated grievances in response to management refusal to conduct special route inspections when the conditions of the M-39, section 271.g have clearly been met.
As with any aspect of letter carrier work, consistency and professionalism are of paramount importance when requesting a special route inspection. It is the professional letter carrier that is best positioned to utilize the tools and the rights that the Contract and Postal regulations provide. Management's greatest nightmare is a professional letter carrier. A professional letter carrier that requests and enforces their right to a special route inspection is frequently able to make management's nightmare a reality - in the form of a properly adjusted 8-hour assignment.