Friday, April 22, 2011

What Happens If the APWU Rejects the Contract?

APWU members now have their ballots for the ratification of the tentative 2010-2015 Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Postal Service.   Like many votes on labor contracts that make significant changes in long-standing work-rules, pay schedules, and compensation levels in industries facing economic change, ratification is not pre-ordained.

Challenging Contract Ratifications

Examples of challenging ratification efforts include both United Parcel Service and Yellow Roadway Corporation.   Unhappiness with a negotiated contract with teamster organized less-than-truckload carriers in the 1970's provided impetus for creation of Teamsters for a Democratic Union.  The 2008 UPS agreement that removed tens of thousands of UPS teamster from the Central States Multiemployer plan, required nearly a year-long public relations effort by the Teamsters union to convince members that members could no longer reject UPS's proposal to set up a separate pension plan just for UPS employees.   Both the 2002 and 2008 contracts also faced opposition due to pay scales for part-time employees who sorted parcels and the number of full time and part-time jobs within sortation centers.   Yellow-Roadway contracts required multiple rounds of negotiations under the threat of bankruptcy and possible liquidation before contracts with major concessions including restrictions in the defined-benefit pension were approved by employees.

The APWU contract has generated vocal opposition from both former APWU President William Burrus and a number of local Presidents. (i.e. NE Massachusetts, Olympia, WA, and Red Bank, NJ)  The opposition even has a Facebook page.

The Process after Rejection

So, given the opposition, it is not unreasonable to ask what happens if the contract is rejected.   While further negotiation is possible, it is more likely the next step would be interest arbitration.   If that occurs the APWU and the Postal Service will select an arbitrator by agreement or by striking from a list provided by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. The arbitration hearings would be scheduled based on the arbitrator’s availability. In the past, such arbitrations generally have been held within a 4-8 month period after the arbitrator's selection.

Likely actions of Parties after Rejection

In arbitration both sides will have to present contract proposals from which the arbitrator will develop a settlement.   The rejection of the contract will likely force the APWU to propose fewer changes in the existing workrules and compensation structure than are contained in the proposed agreement.   Given the 4-8 month arbitration process will delay implementation of any contract changes that the Postal Service believes will reduce its costs, arbitration would force the Postal Service to propose even greater changes in work rules and lower compensation levels than contained in the current agreement.

Results of Arbitration Discretion

What the arbitrator would choose is open to speculation.   APWU members have little clarity regarding whether they would fare better in an arbitration proceeding that follows the rejection of this agreement than what is offered in the contract that they must vote upon.  Each arbitrator looks at the information in front of them independently and contract arbitration following the rejection of a contract by the vote of the rank and file is rare.  The 2007 arbitration that resulted in a NRLC - Postal Service contract followed the rejection of a contract by NRLC rank and file members.  That arbitration decision may provide some guidance as to how an arbitrator will develop his/her decision.

In particular, I would focus on this passage from page 6 of the Fishgold arbitration decision.   "Thus, I informed the parties that they might influence me to make marginal changes to the tentative agreement but certainly not changes of the sort sought by each side in their initial presentations."   If the arbitrator follows this approach in the APWU-Postal Service arbitration, he/she would restrict the APWU and the Postal Service to minimal changes to the contract being negotiated.

While contract provisions similar to what was negotiated would appear to be the most likely outcome of an arbitrator imposed contract, options that are more favorable to management or labor are not out the question.    However, given that an arbitrator would be ruling just before the Postal Service defaults on payments to the Office of Personnel Management and the Department of Labor, the odds of a labor favorable ruling would appear to be longer than a ruling that is more favorable to management.

Congress: The Wild Card

The real wild card in this process is Congress. The pace of legislation will likely preclude Congress from directly affecting an arbitrator's decision or the criteria they must consider in developing a contract but that will not prevent at least the House of Representatives from trying.   More importantly, rejection of the contract would push changes in Postal labor agreements at least 6 months ahead.   This could further sour changes that Republicans in Congress will take any action that resolve the disagreements over retirement obligations in the Postal Service's favor.


Anonymous said...

Drewk86a said...

I'n not sure how the Arbitration of the Rural Letter Carriers, a small non-career workforce, can be compared to a potential arbitration for the largest postal union.

The Rural carriers have a different salary structure where they get "evaluated" on their routes and are given a flat salary based on that evaluation. The USPS can, and has, re-evaluated routes throughout the life of a NRLC contract. this has resulted in wage losses for Rural Carriers and their union was unable to do anything about it.

Also, in 2007 the USPS was in a much different financial position than it is in 2011. Not to mention the country was not facing the anti-labor revolution that it is today.

In 2007, the USPS had money. They had just begun making PAEA required payments, the recession had not hit and mail volumes were at all time highs.

In 2011, mail volume continues to decline. Standard mail volume is has surpassed 1st class volume while only paying a small percentage of the revenue. The country is still recovering from the recession and the USPS has forked over nearly $15 billion to a greddy Congress.

No sir, the times are different and comparisons are tenuous at best. I realize you are trying to portray the mindset and predictability of arbitrators, but these are much different times with different agendas and different methods.

If APWU rejects this contract it will not do any better going to arbitration. Actually, there is real possibility that they will do much worse.

Anonymous said...

I'll take my chances in arbitration.This contract stinks!

Anonymous said...

Educate yourself