If the Postal Service was a public company with shareholders and bondholders it would now be making an aggressive, and in most cases a public effort, trying to explain to them why this agreement is good for shareholders and bondholders. This effort would include briefings with investment analysts and the business press. It has not done that even though Congress effectively acts as the representative of the Postal Service's shareholder and its largest creditors, the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Labor. Congress's role as the representative of the creditor should be of particular interest as the Postal Service has already stated that it will default on these obligations.
The Postal Service's press release uses only 74 words to explain why the contract improves its financial situation. Without a greater effort, the Postal Service leaves the impression that the contract was a giveaway to employees that will make necessary improvements in its cost structure. Private sector stakeholders whose businesses and jobs depend on the long-term survival of the Postal Service should be concerned that this effort has not been made as their future may depend on Congressional actions to reform the Postal Service's business model and adjust the Postal Service's retirement obligations.
To fill in this vacuum, this rest of this post will review the public information on the Postal Service - APWU contract and identify how provisions in the contract will affect the Postal Service's cost structure.
New Definition of Full Time Employee
All employees will operate under new rules defining what constitutes a full time schedule. These new rules give the Postal Service a significant increase in flexibility in scheduling employees.
- New employees hired after signing of the current contract
- Employees are only guaranteed 30 hours per week and can work as much as 48 hours per week
- Shift on any day can be as few as 4 hours and as many as 12 hours.
- Split shifts will exist only in Post Offices level 20 and below.
- Current employees:
- Full time employment is defined as between 40 and 44 hours per week
- Shifts can have as few as 6 hours and will could have as many as 12 hours;
- a week must have at least 2 days off (a schedule with four 6 hour days and two 8 hour days would not be permitted)
- Current full time regular employees can voluntarily agree to work under the new definition of "full time" that applies to new employees.
New Employee Classification
Non-Career Assistants replace casual and transitional employees. This new class of employees will represent up to 20% of all APWU members not in the Maintenance and Motor Vehicle Crafts. The new class of employees will represent 10% of Maintenance and Motor Vehicle Crafts. These employees will have a different pay schedule and employment relationship with the Postal Service than current employees have.
- Non-career Assistants are hired for only 360 day assignments. (This is equivalent to a contract that last for only 51 of the 52 weeks in the year.) It is unclear regarding what the Postal Service obligations are to rehire Non-career Assistants after the contract expires but it an employee is good it is unlikely and there is work it is unlikely that the USPS will refuse to renew the contract.
- Additional pay steps were added for Non-career Assistants with lower starting salaries than what now exists. On average, starting salaries for Non-career Assistants will be 15% below current starting salaries and it will take new employees between 6 and 8 steps to earn the current starting salaries.
- 12.4% of all APWU members will be paid at the lowest rate when the contract starts.
- Non-career Assistants have lower benefits that current full-time regular employees
- Health care benefits require 1 year of employment
- USPS will only pay 75% of the PWU Consumer Driven Plan premium for these employees. (This is 11% below what the Postal Service will pay for full time regular employees)
- Retirement benefits will be limited to a 401-K plan that does not have matching funds. (The retirement benefit should provide significant savings over FERS. It is unclear from information provided what happens if these employees become full-time regular employees.)
- Non career assistants will accrue leave. However, it is unclear whether they will accrue leave at the same rate as current APWU members
- Non career assistants will have a "full-time" job as described above
- Wage levels for current APWU members are frozen at current levels until November 17, 2012.
- Wages of current casual and transitional employees who are hired as Non-carrier assistants will rise to fit equivalent levels on the Non-Carrier Assistant schedule.
- All employees hired after the contract is signed starts at a lower rate than now exists.
- All employees hired after the contract is signed have a lower top salary than current employees even after they become career employees.
- New hires have to progress between 6 and 8 steps before they reach the current starting salary levels of APWU employees. Her are few examples:
- Grade 3 - Starting salary drops from $16.74 to $12.34 per hour (-26%)
- Grade 4 - Starting salary drops from $16.82 to $12.95 per hour (-23%)
- Grade 5 - Starting salary drops from $18.65 to $15.91 per hour (-15%)
- Grade 8 - Starting salary drops from $20.80 to $18.20 per hour (-12%)
- Wage increases after that point will come on the following schedule
- November 17, 2012 - 1% increase
- March, 2013 - COLA increase based on COLA calculated for implementation in March 2012 and COLA calculated for March 2013
- September 2013 - COLA increase based on COLA calculated for implementation in September 2012 and COLA calculated for September 2013
- November 17, 2013 - 1.5% increase
- March, 2014 - COLA increase based on COLA calculated for implementation in March, 2014
- March, 2014 - COLA increase based on COLA calculated for implementation in March, 2014
- November 17, 2014 - 1.5% increase
- March, 2015 - COLA increase based on COLA calculated for implementation in March, 2015
Update 3/17/2011 4:25pm : A comment was made that may clarify a rather confusion explanation of who gets paid what. The Non Career Assistants do not see step increases like career employees. The saaries identified above are the steps for career employees. Level 5 Non Career Assistants start at $13.74 per hour which is less than the starting salary for career employees listed above.
- A shift of jobs from Postmasters, supervisors, and other administrative and technical positions to APWU members.
- Many of these jobs will be handled by employees working in a new "Lead Clerk" position.
- The Postal Service will have greater flexibility in scheduling employees to perform facility maintenance
- Maintenance employees will be assigned on an installation basis and not a facility basis. This more than likely means that maintenance employees may work at more than one facility during a day or week.
- Maintenance activities requiring less than 2 hours per day in a facility may be assigned to an APWU member who has other job responsibilities the rest of his day.
- Some maintenance supervisory jobs will become APWU member jobs and will mostly be filled by a person in one of the new "Lead Clerk" positions.
Limits on Excessing
The APWU and the Postal Service have agreed to limit excessing outside of an installation or craft to r0 miles in most cases and no more than 50 miles in any case. The contract information is unclear as to what happens if there are no jobs for an excessed employee within that area. The News Bulletin states that "the parties will jointly determine what steps will be taken." The PowerPoint presentation mentions that there is a memorandum associated with this provision but it is not public.
Conclusion: It is unclear what impact this will have on either employees that face excessing or the Postal Service. A good example is consolidation of facilities that are more than 50 miles from the facility that will now be sorting the mail. This will occur in West Virginia and in most consolidation efforts outside of metropolitan areas. Most likely the sides decided to sign a contract on all issues that they can agree on and let this issue wait for further negotiations.
Excessing employees create challenges especially if excess employees cannot be let go. The only other alternative is a localized early retirement program that would only apply to geographic areas where there will be excess employees.
This review of the APWU - Postal Service contract indicates that the new contract will allow the Postal Service to significantly cut its costs over the life of the contract. The amount it saves depends upon how quickly it can raise the proportion of APWU members that are Non-career Assistants, implement the changes in maintenance job descriptions that should cut maintenance contracting and shift jobs from supervisors, postmasters, and other non-union employees to APWU members.
The Postal Service needs to provide the hard numbers that must exist that show the cost savings that I believe exist to its creditor and shareholder representatives in Congress as well its customers. In addition they need to show how quickly these savings will accrue including the difference in costs over the current contract from fiscal year 2011 through 2015. Finally, they need to show how those cost savings could change if it offered a VERA or had the cash to offer retirement incentives on either a nationwide or local basis.