With many lengthy disputes that are eventually settled, differences between parties sometimes linger. That seems to be the case with the 40-year-old dispute between Postal Service management and labor over the number of hours a postmaster or supervisor can spend performing work typically reserved for bargaining unit employees. In late 2014, the Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union reached a settlement in the 1970s case that capped that number at 15 per week.
Under the agreement, once management workers exceed 15 hours, the Postal Service pays the corresponding hourly wages to a clerk identified by the union as eligible for the payment. The Postal Service makes the payment even if the clerk was on leave during the time the work is performed.
Our recent management advisory report found postmasters and supervisors worked 830,000 hours over the threshold in the first 9 months after the agreement was reached. This cost the Postal Service $11.2 million in payments to clerks. In some instances, payments were significant – the single largest payment to an individual clerk was $23,900 for work a postmaster or supervisor did. The payments occurred in more than 90 percent of Postal Service districts.
Postmasters and supervisors performed an excessive number of hours of bargaining unit work for a range of reasons, such as: vacant clerk positions that took months to fill, worksharing between clerks and postmasters, and clerks detailed to other facilities, thereby creating staff shortages at their assigned facilities.
While we found management reduced these payments in the first half of this fiscal year (2016), postal management still “did not effectively manage workhours for postmasters and supervisors performing bargaining unit work to ensure they complied with the agreement and controlled costs.”
We recommended the Postal Service monitor vacancies so management is not doing more than 15 hours a week of bargaining unit work. We also urged management to continue providing guidance to field offices to promote compliance with the agreement. Finally, we recommended the Postal Service communicate to postmasters and supervisors that payments are not automatic; rather, payments should be reviewed to determine whether they are affected by emergencies and extenuating circumstances.