From the early days of organizing the Postal Service, all clerks have been hired as part time employees and initially identified as Substitutes, later as part-time. This was necessitated because of the uneven deposit of mail into the processing system dependent totally on the schedule of the sender. Each hour and day the deposit of mail was uncertain making it necessary to have a flexible work force available to meet the uneven demand. The prime objective of the flexible employees was to be converted to full time schedules that there was predictability in hours of work and daily compensation.
Upon assuming national office in 1981, one of the union’s priorities was the conversion of part time employees to full time. The advantages included the guarantee of eight hours work or pay until the recently negotiated contract; the allocated vacation time advanced at the beginning of the leave year; schedules are fixed providing advanced notice of the hours of work; paid holidays; first selection for vacation periods; overtime priority; payment for jury duty and generally the employee will know in advance the work to be performed. The stability of full time employment was the objective of all clerical employees so full time conversion was always a prime union objective.
The Atlanta, GA Local under the leadership of Wallace Baldwin as president had negotiated an all regular program so members throughout the union were convinced that postal operations could be maintained with increases in the full time complement.
When assuming national office in 1981, the union was unable to monitor the contractual requirement that had been negotiated as 90% of all employees per installation were contractually required to be full time. This percentage included all employees in the represented crafts (clerks, maintenance, motor vehicle, special delivery, city letter carrier). The contractual limitation was per installation and applied only to offices that employed 200 or more man years of employment. Local union officials were unable to monitor the percentages as many of the employees were beyond their craft jurisdiction. For those offices that did not meet the 200 man year threshold, the only contractual requirement was “to maximize” the number of full time employees, which was a challenging requirement to document available hours and force local management to make conversions.
The system that was inherited was unenforceable and many employees in small offices routinely worked their entire careers as part time employees or the opportunity for conversion was dependent on the attrition of the assigned full time employee. It was not unusual for an employee to work 20 years or more as part time in some offices and it was routine in large offices for their service as a part-timer to be extended for four or five years.
Early in my career as Executive Vice President, I requested from postal management a computer printout recording the mix of employees in every office, nationwide. At the time, the Post Office had over 30,000 facilities so the report was voluminous and required extensive man-hours of review but it revealed that thousands of offices were stuffed below the 90% requirement. I initiated a national level grievance that was based on local facts stretching the interpretation of an interpretive grievance. The concept of enforcing local contractual requirements at the national level was a new undertaking and I was plowing new ground.
I reached out to the Letter Carriers Union’s Vice President, Larry Hutchins and we combined the separately filed grievances contesting USPS noncompliance with the contractual provisions. Discussions transpired over months with postal management raising repeated procedural issues. Appeal was made to arbitration and the unions finally had their day in court over management’s refusal to properly staff. The grievance was arbitrated and the unions prevailed on all counts. Thousands of PTFs were converted and a lump sum equaling over eight million dollars was agreed to as compensation to thousands of PTFs for delayed conversions to full time. In addition, the arbitrator ordered the future production of computer print outs on a quarterly basis in order that the union could monitor the percentage. Postal Districts were also integrated into a national computer system to prevent future violations. This effort benefited thousands of represented employees who were provided some stability in their employment.