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Volume 3, No. 18 - Summer 2000
Page 6

Keeping An Eye On Route Inspections


Although the above cases have concerned only one management action-whether changing clerks' schedules or trying to use stopwatches there have been cases in which Postal Service managers seemed to disregard almost every provision designed to ensure a fair and equitable route inspection and mail count. In another recent regional arbitration (C-17180, Cleveland, OH), the NALC grieved management's conduct during a special route inspection for a single letter carrier. The grievance progressed to arbitration, and during that proceeding the NALC representative argued that managers had committed no less than six violations of the procedures outlined in the M39 and M41.

These violations included not allowing the grievant to make a dry run before the formal start of the inspection; counting an abbreviated day that the grievant worked as a full day for the purposes of the inspection; not allowing the grievant to count his mail; providing an hour of auxiliary assistance to the grievant during the inspection but not factoring that assistance into the final analysis of the route; and two violations committed by the route examiner-actually setting the pace for the carrier, and continually stopping the carrier to give him instructions on the day of inspection.

The result of the route inspection was that the route was abolished and the grievant became an unassigned regular carrier.

In the arbitration hearing, the management representative contradicted many of the union's statements, denying that the grievant was not given an opportunity for a dry run, that the grievant was instructed as to his pace, or that the examiner continually gave the grievant instructions. Management further argued that it was evident that the route was substantially underburdened and was justifiably abolished.

The Arbitrator's View

Before beginning his analysis of the case, the arbitrator commented that frequently special route inspections are conducted in an adversarial manner. As the arbitrator stated, "The result is a tirade of acrimony and vindictiveness based on minute variations and violations. The present case is adequate proof."

In looking at the testimony presented by both sides, the arbitrator found some evidence that the carrier himself impeded the process of making a fair route inspection, and some doubt could be cast on the carrier's own credibility. However, the arbitrator also found strong evidence supporting the union's contention that the inspection contained serious errors and omissions. For example, there was no hard evidence that the carrier had ever been offered a dry run, specifically that the carrier had signed a verification of the mail count on the day of the dry run. The arbitrator commented on other "trivial mistakes, errors and omissions" and stated that in his opinion such occurrences might not have altered the ultimate finding of the route inspection.

However, as the arbitrator stated, "Both parties must have confidence in the route inspection procedure." In this case, there was enough evidence to support the union's contention that the route examiner was being vindictive and that the examiners did not comply with the rigid instructions of the M-39.

For those reasons, then, the arbitrator ruled that the results of the special route inspection should be set aside and a new route inspection be conducted "with due regard for all the specific requirements of the M-39."

However, due to discrepancies in testimony of the grievant, the arbitrator did not award any damages or restitution to the grievant.

Points To Note

Most NALC stewards can add to the above examples of ways that Postal Service managers have tried to alter the outcome of mail counts and route inspections. As the arbitrator in the case above stated, these procedures are usually conducted in an atmosphere of hostility and ill will. Management has a clear agenda-to try to reduce the number of routes so that costs will go down. Letter carriers have the best of reasons to oppose such action-they stand to lose routes that they hold by right of seniority, and may ultimately end up with no route at all.

However, it is important to remember that for these very reasons, the rules and procedures concerning route inspections and mail counts have been described in elaborate detail. At times both carriers and managers may see reasons to cut corners in the process-but again, if carriers are to be truly protected, stewards and local officers must closely monitor these procedures to ensure that route inspections and mail counts are performed in a fair and equitable manner.

For stewards who already have a heavy burden of responsibility, the task of keeping up with route inspection procedures can seem daunting at times. It may be difficult to monitor the progress of such inspections as they happen. But as the results of these arbitrations reveal, such close attention to detail can pay off. In each case cited above, carriers' rights to be treated fairly were once more upheld-as a result of hard work and careful attention by the NALC stewards and local officers.

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