|Delivering information when you need it most.
Volume 2 - Summer 1999
The Case Of The "Slow" Letter Carrier
The Arbitrator Rules
In addressing the merits of the case, the arbitrator came immediately to the core issue, that there is no standard speed established for driving between mail boxes to make deliveries. The arbitrator stated, "Since there is no standard, the Service can't reasonably show one was violated, unless unbiased, objective evidence clearly shows obvious malingering (by a camcorder, for example)." The supervisor, whom the arbitrator characterized as "hard driving," was clearly not an impartial observer. Further, the arbitrator stated, "Every carrier is not required to drive as fast as the fastest driver."The arbitrator rejected the union's argument that because management had imposed the 14-day suspension without knowing the results of arbitration of previous discipline, the suspension was improper. As the arbitrator saw it, the purpose of discipline at whatever level is to put employees on notice of what management expects and will act against with more severe discipline if repeated. Therefore, in the arbitrator's opinion, management need not wait for each discipline to be resolved before issuing another discipline for the same behavior.
The bigger issue for the arbitrator, however, was whether the grievant clearly understood why he was being disciplined in the first place. Effective progressive discipline requires that the person being disciplined be aware of the exact nature of the rule, regulation, policy or order that is being violated. The supervisor was unable to cite such a rule, but rather relied on a subjective judgment of the grievant's performance as "unsatisfactory."
For this reason, the arbitrator sustained the grievance and instructed management to make the grievant whole for any money and benefits lost as a result of the 14-day suspension.
Note To Stewards
In the final analysis, this case demonstrates a basic principle of approaching grievances involving discipline. The behavior cited by management in issuing the discipline must be a violation of a rule, regulation, policy or order. A charge of "poor performance" cannot stand by itself; rather, management must be able to prove that the grievant was guilty of deliberate misconduct. The standards set in arbitration for such proof include the testimony of reliable witnesses or a preponderance of evidence.In this case, management had only one witness-the supervisor who issued the discipline. This person could not cite a specific rule or procedure that the grievant had violated. As part of the arbitration hearing, the parties recreated the circumstances leading to the issuing of the discipline. In that reenactment, the arbitrator was unable to find any evidence that the grievant had behaved as the supervisor claimed. And in any event, a charge of "driving too slowly" is not a basis for discipline unless management has objective proof of deliberate malingering, as the arbitrator pointed out.
Postal management constantly pressures letter carriers to speed up, whether in the office or on the street. This case illustrates that management cannot simply claim a carrier is not performing at an appropriate speed. There is no standard for appropriate street time. Rather, each carrier has the right to set his or her own speed based on their individual abilities and capacities. Knowing this right, stewards should be alert to protect carriers from arbitrary management demands to speed up.