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Union: Possible pause in “excessing” at Postal Service

The American Postal Workers Union and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union may have stalled a move by Postal Service management to implement further staffing cuts—at least temporarily.

The American Postal Workers Union and the National Postal Mail Handlers Union may have stalled a move by Postal Service management to implement further staffing cuts—at least temporarily.

Last month, the unions sent a joint letter to Postmaster General Megan Brennan denouncing the next round of planned job cuts—both because of their toxic effect on the workforce and on customer service.

“The cutting of an already skeletal workforce will not only cause massive disruption to the workforce but will cause further degradation of postal services for the American people throughout the country,” the letter declared.

But in the weeks since the letter was delivered (June 21), the unions have pressed their case against further “excessing.”

Excessing is a procedure in which Postal Service management officially identifies what it sees as surplus positions—and notifies those currently staffing them that they will be reassigned, often to alternative positions (“landing spots”) at work sites hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles away. Not surprisingly, often workers retire early or otherwise separate from their jobs rather than undertake such long-distance moves.

And, in recent days, the union effort may have temporarily blocked—or at least slowed USPS’s— “excessing” plans.

“Since the Postal Service has received this letter, they have agreed to push back the dates of any excessing events to early 2018,” Bobby Blum, the assistant to the president of the NPMHU, told FEND on July 13. “From the time between now and then, we are holding discussions with them regarding our position on these events.”

But some stakeholders in the conflict told FEND they felt the situation remained in flux—and that the Postal Service could not be counted on to stop the excessing activity, or not for long. NPMHU’s Blum noted too that the actual numbers of personnel who are in the USPS management’s sights for excessing remains “fluid.”

Blum also noted that his union does not have word on the exact date in “early 2018” when excessing might resume.

Diminishing workforce

From the mid-1990s to 2015, the Postal Service dropped its workforce by 250,000 personnel, according to Congressional Research Service and other reports. The lion’s share of this reduction took place in the last ten years of that time frame, with the Postal Service workforce dropping from around 796,000 to 618,000 employees over the period, according to GAO and Postal Service statistics. That number has dropped further in the last few years, as NPMHU told FEND that the number of Postal Service employees has dropped closer to the 550,000 range these days—a level the major postal unions deplore as too low and a cause of slower delivery times.

APWU and NPMHU had issued their protest letter in reaction to the latest round of reductions, initiated by the Postal Service under what is called the “excessing” mechanism. According to the June letter, job revisions and cuts had hit 15,000 employees—often using means the unions said violated Collective Bargaining Agreements, since they lacked advanced notice and other information required by unions, such as move dates and residual vacancies.

Typically, a computer program is used to identify positions that Postal Service management determines are not needed in order to meet service targets. These positions are considered “excessive.” The same program finds the “landing spots” that, theoretically, could be filled by the employees that are “excessive” at their current places of work.

“The problem is, there is really no other place for them to go,” a union member told FEND. “They don’t know what to do with the people—the people the scheduler program tells management aren’t needed.”

“The real problem after that is the scheduler program finds landing spots that make no real sense—sometimes these are halfway across the country,” he said. “You know, It’s a computer program—garbage in, garbage out.”

And if this weren’t bad enough—the Postal Service has reportedly not been consistent in providing “excessed” employees with any alternative—something the June APWU/NPMHU letter notes is mandated by contract.  

“Our contracts further require at the area/regional meeting a list of residual vacancies be provided to the union for each excessing event," the letter states.

“Without the residual vacancies, there is no excessing,” the letter said. “That begs the question of why there is a demand to excess thousands of employees if there are no ‘landing spots’ for the employees to be placed into.”

The joint letter noted there were over 1500 events affecting employees by the time the union issued its protest.

As discussions move forward, both unions report that they continue to push USPS management to explore alternatives to any further cuts—in order both to better preserve service, and jobs. 

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