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EDITORIALS

The title of the page should be self-explanatory.  If you would like to contribute an item for this page click here.

Nov. 10, 2004

Preaching To The Choir...Or Am I?

As I sit here contemplating which direction to go with this, I struggle to
try to present a positive article when all the facts are negative.  Let me
start with the recent state board/booster meeting held in Norfolk on
November 2.  It was reported that the state of Virginia has approximately
2800 members.  Why then did only a handful show up for the board/booster
meeting?  According to our State Constitution and Bylaws, members may
receive reimbursement for driving expenses to attend board/booster meetings.

In attending local meetings, the same attendance or lack of attendance seems
to be the norm.  There are a variety of reasons given by those who choose
not to attend meetings.  "I don't have time....The weather is too nice and I
have things to do....The weather is too bad to get out...I am going to spend
time with my family" are just a few of the most common ones.  I say to all
of these...hogwash!

We have four state board meetings annually, one of these is held at state
convention time.  These meetings are almost always set for a Sunday to allow
all members the opportunity to attend.  Locals are required to meet at least
once a year, but are encouraged to meet more often.  Every time you pass up
the opportunity to attend a meeting, you are passing up a chance to be more
informed, to learn more about your union and your job, and to show that you
are indeed concerned about your job, your union, and your future.  Simply
paying dues does not fulfill your obligation as a member.

All state meeting dates and places are always in the state paper.  There is
always enough time to plan to attend.  You should be informed of Local
meetings by your local secretary/treasurer.  It is the responsibility of the
Local officers to see that meeting announcements and a brief write-up of
meetings are provided for publication in the state paper.  If you do not
know when your Local meets, there is a list elsewhere in this paper (on this website) of all
Local officers and contact information.  If you do not know which Local you
belong to, contact our state secretary/treasurer Marion Neighbours.

I want to encourage all members to attend their local meetings.  As a
member, you should encourage your neighbor in the case beside you to attend
meetings.  If your neighbor in the next case isn't a union member, you
should encourage them to join.  In recent years, the postal service has made
it obvious that rural carriers are no longer out of the loop when it comes
to being micro-managed and used and abused to save a dollar or two here and
there.  You need to know your rights and responsibilities as a rural carrier
and as a union member.

You, the membership of the VARLCA, have elected state and Local officers,
appointed state officers, and state level stewards who work to provide
information, provide opportunities for you to partake of all available
information, and provide an ear and advice when you have problems or issues
related to work.  What if the next time you call one of them, they say, "I'd
really like to listen to you and help but I don't have time"?

As an officer, I sometimes feel like I am between the devil and the deep
blue sea.  The membership I work for doesn't seem to care.  I know the
postal service is just tickled pink that the vast majority of members don't
attend meetings.  The time I spend on union business could very easily be
spent enjoying the nice weather, visiting with friends and family, or just
curled up with a good book.  What makes you think your time is more valuable
to you than mine is to me?  And the same applies to all the other state and
local union officials.  We work toward a common goal and we need the support
of the membership.  You can give that support by attending meetings, reading
your state paper and national magazine, and recruiting non-members to become
members.

It takes all of us working together to be successful in our endeavors.  And
unfortunately, just sitting around and waiting for someone else to do
something does not get the job done.


Debbie Atwell
 

4/15/02

Dear Rural Family,

So, here we are, with our new evaluations, our new working schedules, and the same old amount of mail, miles and boxes to deliver to.  I guess that we are apart of Postmaster General Potters’ Transformation plan.  The problem is what we are being transformed into.  PMG Jack Potter announced the details of USPS Transformation Plan, that “we are moving boldly into the future on the wings of a plan…”.  He forgot to mention that it is also on the backs of the Rural Carriers!!  But enough, enough.  What’s passed is past and we must get on with the future!! (Or so they tell me).  So what does our future hold?  And can we trust the company we work for with our futures?  Let’s take a look at what we know.

We have been an evaluated system that worked on the premise of incentive.  An incentive based culture.  Our routes were evaluated on a fair system (prior to DPS, NBU’s, 7-mile routes, and apartment complexes).  We knew what each day was worth in time and money; we had the choice and the incentive to work accurately and as fast as we could to realize the “BUMP” of the evaluated system.  Those who were blessed with a good memory, good hand-eye coordination, good driving and delivery skills, could realize a “BUMP” of several minutes to several hours a day not worked but paid for.  Those who were slower, or perhaps had a more difficult route to service still had a justifiable pay system, if not an updated one.

Now Mr. Potter is suggesting that to move into the future we need a “motivated workforce whose members know what is expected of them and who are recognized for individual and team accomplishments.”  Seems to me that Rural Carriers have always known what was expected of them (deliver all the mail, every day) and we were recognized by our evaluated pay system which motivated us on a daily basis to do the job swiftly and accurately.  We needed no manager to “recognize” us for our accomplishments, our pay system did it for us very well.  However, that pay system is no longer FAIR or JUST.  We must now rely on our FAIR and HONEST management to RECOGNIZE a job well done.  (Yeah, right).

Mr. Potter’s dream of performance-based culture is totally targeted at management.  He wants to “change the culture of the Postal Service by improving our management of employee performance with data.  This will be achieved by better defining expectations and measuring” (who will do the measuring?) “performance against those expectations.  Accountability will be enhanced through greater use of performance-based pay….”  HELLO, MR. POTTER, has anybody told you what you just did to the best performance based pay system that the postal service had?   I needed no one to evaluate me, I did it myself by performing to the best of my ability to take advantage of evaluated system that paid me.  YOU JUST TOLD AN ARBITRATOR THAT THE RURAL CARRIERS HAVE BEEN STEALING FROM THE POST OFFICE BY THE USE OF THE EVALUATED SYSTEM.  YOU, SIR, DO NOT WANT ANY INCENTIVES!!!! – You do not want to work with human beings – you want to evaluate people by numbers, and numbers can be fixed if you do them at the right time of the year or month.  YOU GIVE GOOD LIP SERVICE – BUT YOUR ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN YOUR WORDS!!!

You foolishly say “Continue working with the labor unions to improve relationships”  (SORRY, but you haven’t improved our relationship) “reduce grievance costs” (I’ll bet Rural Carriers will find out what a grievance form is now).  You want to “Move repetitive transactional work to a shared services environment and explore outsourcing(contract work) “to reduce costs and increase efficiency.”  Sounds like to me you don’t want rural carriers anymore.  You can’t manage us like you do City Carriers and you can’t get by cheap (like you do with HCR carriers) paying no benefits or retirement.

Strangely, we have been the one group willing to SERVE not only the postal customer, but also the US Postal Service with pride and dignity.  Foolishly, we believed you and thought we enjoyed a working relationship built on trust.  Sadly, we will probably never trust you like before, believe what you say, or think that you are working in our best interests.  Sadly, we will see customer service suffer because you have drawn a line in the sand regarding our worth as employees.  Predictably, because of the honor and integrity of the many rural carriers in this nation, customers will continue to receive the service they have come to expect at the cost and expense of the rural carrier that serves them.

MR. POTTER, IF THIS IS YOUR VISION OF THE FUTURE, IF THIS IS YOUR DREAM, THEN SOMEONE NEEDS TO AWAKEN YOU FROM THE NIGHTMARE YOU HAVE CREATED FOR THE RURAL CARRIER.  I expected better of you Mr. Potter, instead you have proven yourself to be one of the good old boys who believe that management is the answer and craft is the problem.  I don’t want the right to strike, I just want the right to serve my customers, be paid fairly for the job I do, and take home a justifiable paycheck to my family.  I want the right to be in a work environment that has managers that care as much as I do about my customers, my safety, and doing the job right the first time.  Mr. Potter, I think you need to go back to the drawing board.

 

Sincerely,

Marge Carlson,  Oregon RLCA

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The Piece Work Trap
 by John Dziubek CTRLCA State Steward

Since 1896 rural letter carriers have been paid by an evaluated type system.  After the wildcat postal strike in 1970, some very important things changed for postal workers. First the Post Office Department, which was a branch of the federal government, was transformed into the United States Postal Service, an independent corporation. Secondly and more importantly to the paychecks of rural carriers, in May of 1974 an act of Congress placed all postal employees under the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), however it was soon discovered that the entire rural carrier pay system was incompatible with the FLSA.

According to Lester Miller, past NRLCA President (100 Years of Rural Free Delivery): "The solution relied upon the Section 7(b)2 of the FLSA. This section provided for the use of an annual limitation of 2,080 actual hours worked instead of the usual 40-hour per week limitation to comply with the standards. The key to the solution was that the annual limitation of 2,080 was based upon actual hours worked and not upon paid hours. Taking into account the holidays and the use of sick and annual leave which a carrier would likely use during the year, most carriers could confine their actual work hours to the 2,080-hour requirement to comply with the FLSA and still be able to carry a 46-hour evaluated route, provided the carrier was able to keep within the normal time standards. Actually many carriers have been able to comply with the requirements even on a 48-hour evaluated route by working below the time standards." This agreement provided the basis for our current evaluated pay system.

In actuality the evaluated system is nothing more than a piecework system.  Obviously rural carriers don't work on a long assembly line in a huge factory.   But our "evaluated" pay system is based on the same principal.  When mail count time comes your manager inspects the routes for boxes, stops, and mileage.    You then receive a certain time factor, regardless of  road   and   weather conditions. Your manager counts and times everything you do. You are given so much credit per letter, flat, parcel, etc. and anything else is measured with a stopwatch right down to the second.  In other words, your salary is based on casing and delivering so many pieces of mail. Carriers are paid at a set rate for the route, whether they can complete their work in the allotted amount of time or not.   If they can't, they work additional hours without compensation. No consideration is given for a worker's age, health or disabilities. The only difference between what we do and what is done on an assembly line is that our work is more difficult, and we have to work outside in all types of weather.    I have been a rural carrier since 1980 and during that entire period everyone from managers to other craft employees envied rural carriers for the simple fact that on some days we got to go home early.   That was our incentive.   But wait, during arbitration for our new contract the postal service informed the arbitrator that we are not on the incentive system. The fact that some of us go home early was used to convince   arbitrator  Wells   that  the   time standards do not equate to a fair day's work for a fair day's pay.  With the new contract standards and the count period have changed. In other words speed up the assembly line, because whether you realize it or not you were just caught in the piece
work trap.

Let's make a little detour through the history of the labor movement in this country. In early American history, the colonial settlers were mainly farmers. In America, the coming of machines was controversial. Workers were forced to work long hours from morning until night in dirty and unsafe mills and factories. Many of these people were paid according to the piece work system.

I recently read a book entitled "A Pictorial History of American Labor" by William Cahn. Inside there were some interesting stories from workers in the early part of the 20th century that apply to the rural carriers of America today.

"The scientifically computed piecework system increasingly made the worker a victim of the machinery he tended. "I think that piece work is a very unjust method of paying workers," one woman worker said."

"If we realized how piece work harms us mentally and physically, we might take it a little bit more seriously. Piece work is paid on a plan that is more like guess work than anything else. The employer cannot resist the temptation to cut prices when he sees that we are making more than he thinks we ought to make."

"Often the employer picks the fastest girl in the place and gives her a certain amount of work to turn out, with a time-study method of ascertaining the time required. When she turns out more than the average worker, and so earns more, the employer usually cuts the prices accordingly. He may cut the rate again and again. And we have to work faster and faster in order to get a living wage."

One physician commented on the system: "Medically, the piece work system is perhaps the most pernicious thing that could be devised to weaken what, for a better term, might be described as the dynamic efficiency of the nervous system. I am referring, of course, to the unregulated piece work system in which there is no maximum or average amount of work set down to keep the worker from speeding beyond his capacity. The pay that the piece worker obtains for his labor is ingeniously devised, and subject to change in amount, so that he must work at top speed to make it worth while. With the increased efficiency of the pieceworker, the price per piece of work turned out is commonly decreased, so that a greater and increasingly more intense effort is necessary to reach the individual's maximum reward for his labor.  It needs no argument to convince even a sturdy advocate of that new idol, called efficiency, that such methods are bound in the long run, to use up the worker ..."

These words were written over 80 years ago, but basically the same thing just happened to rural carriers in 2002. Some of us were beating the time standards, so the standards were raised. This is not the first, nor will it be the last speedup in the rural carrier piece work system. Remember the bonus collectors receive bonus checks based upon increased productivity, not profits. That means that you and I will deliver to more delivery points with reduced work hours (higher standards) and fewer employees (fewer relief days). Their bonus is assured this year, but what will happen next year.  In order to collect it once again they will want more blood from you and me.

Since I started delivering mail for the post office in 1980, there have been three speedups initiated by our employer that affected rural carriers. The first one was in 1980 with the introduction of the L route. What it did was change the box factor from two minutes per box to 1.64 minutes per regular box for high density routes (12 boxes or more per mile) and .82 for all centralized boxes.   In addition, carriers on L routes would have to purchase 150 times the first class rate in order to receive a 5 minute stamp stock purchase credit. While these radical changes affected only a small percentage of the nation's carriers, it affected the majority of the carriers in Connecticut. I was a sub at that time and it decreased the evaluation of my route by three hours. As a new employee and union member I was impressed by the reaction and the solidarity of the   carriers at the Connecticut  contract ratification meeting.  I am still proud of the fact that Connecticut rural carriers voted NO to this speedup.   Unfortunately the contract was ratified, because this new L route concept did not affect the majority of the carriers in the nation. It was eventually hailed as the savior of the rural craft, because our cost was less than city delivery, therefore we were allowed to  gain  territory.     However the  carriers branded with an L route classification would be required to handle more mail and deliveries to receive the same wage as a non-L carrier.

As is usually the case, as time went by this speedup became the norm and therefore another speedup came in 1991 with the introduction of sector segment. This was soon replaced with the introduction of DPS mail, with a new standard of 30 letters per minute for street time only. This was a double whammy. It not only eliminated office casing time, but it eliminated office strap out time. Again this speedup was limited to when and where automation came on line. While automation limited some handing of the mail, the carriers would again have to handle more mail and delivery points in order to maintain the same wage.  These two previous speedups pale in comparison to what happened to all rural carriers in 2002. The pattern was set and the postal service knew from past experience it would be easy to squeeze the paychecks of rural carriers once more due to the evaluated system. Management convinced the arbitrator that the rural pay system is not an incentive system. The overall average showed that rural carriers were getting done early and getting paid for work hours that they did not perform. Based on this fact, the arbitrator raised our standards. The postal service, empowered by this victory, decided they would squeeze the rural paycheck even more by teaching their managers how to create artificial targets, and intimidate and harass employees. This is what being labeled the most cooperative union has gotten us.

The disastrous results of the 2002 mailcount were as follows. Before the count there were 599 K routes, 64 J routes, 58 H routes, and 91 Auxiliary routes in Connecticut. When the dust settled there were 188 K routes, 265 J routes, 267 H routes and 91 Auxiliary routes. Across the state the average carrier saw a 5 hour and 43 minute (11%) decrease in their route's evaluation. This resulted in a yearly savings of $1,330,418 for the Connecticut District. This also eliminated 16,146 relief days for RCA's to work and for regulars to rest and produced additional savings for the postal service. How many auxiliary routes do you think will be eliminated?

There is a comparison that management does during the mailcount that people pay little attention to. They compare each route's standard hours to the time actually used by the carrier during mailcount. In past counts, 73% of the carriers worked under standards. This count provided a significant difference, with only 39% of the carriers working under standards. This means that 61% of the carriers worked actual hours over the standards, therefore the average rural carrier gave one hour and five minutes of free
labor to the postal service per week. Collectively this amounts to $974,400 of free labor for the postal service per year. Obviously this was a significant negative change for rural carriers.  Who is responsible for this debacle? The evaluated system caused the rural carrier to hustle in order to avoid a 2080 problem and to obtain the highest salary. For some carriers speeding up was not enough and this lead some rural carriers to not record actual work hours or to take shortcuts in the job. This is not unusual from the material I have read on the piecework system and the labor movement in this country, "that high productivity figures are partly the result of effectively forcing workers to work
overtime for free".

Human beings are not robots. This is the flaw of the piecework system that management ignores. Only the youngest and healthiest workers will be able to meet the new time standards, and even they will wear out over time like a piece of machinery, due to long hours of repetitive motion.

As you can see, the supposed benefits of the evaluated system are far outweighed by the negative. Carriers on most routes will work hours they are not compensated for, most of which will be unpaid overtime hours. Relief days for most carriers are a thing of the past, sick leave discipline will increase as the RCA ranks dwindle, and vacation time will be as difficult to obtain as it is in the other crafts.

So why should we be the only employees to be on an evaluated system? If some of us are still able to beat our standards, the Post Office will only convince a future arbitrator to raise our standards again. It is time to put the evaluated system into the dust bin of history and get a fair day's pay for a fair day's work, like everyone else. Rural carriers need to be paid hourly.

When the postal service convinced the arbitrator to eliminate the bump that allowed for an exemption to FLSA law in 1974, they in fact made the entire rural carrier pay system incompatible with FLSA. You can be sure as the work hours pile up, and your leave is denied, managers will become panicked over 2080 hours. They will then want to punish you for the problem they have created. Ultimately there will be only one solution and that will be to comply with FLSA law. Rural carriers will have to go on the clock like other postal workers, and be paid overtime for time worked over 40 hours in a week.

The mail handlers recently settled their contract with relatively similar results to ours with one exception. Our raise was picked right out of our pockets with speedups, so in effect we lost money in comparison to the other crafts simply because of the evaluated system. Rest assured the company is not done with their speedups. They will look to get their production numbers up and we are sitting ducks with the evaluated system.

I think you can agree with me that rural carriers work on their own piecework assembly line. Unfortunately we are the only postal workers trapped in this antiquated system. So how do we escape? It will be up to the membership and elected delegates at a future national convention to direct our national officers on a different course. Let's hope something changes soon for all our sakes.

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We are now faced with a situation wherein all Rural workers, both career and non-career, both Regular and RCA, have become victims and casualties, in a never ending downward economic spiral. All this at hands of the NRLCA, our legal representative, and USPS  our employer respectively.

It is my hope that we in the Rural Craft shall somehow find it within ourselves to bring forth effective, positive, and non-violent change within the structures of the USPS and NRLCA , if at all possible. But make no mistake, there cannot be any compromise short of a true democratized Union, something the NRLCA is light years away from. The passing of OM/OV last year was a start to be sure, now lets move on to direct voting by the membership for all national officers. Something long overdue.

Most of whom will read these words, are among the lowest paid postal employees of the U.S Postal Service having a bargaining unit representative. Many whom read these words are the new tier of disenfranchised rural postal workers, sometimes receiving only eight hours of pay for twelve hours of work. Many witness the injustice of the present system everyday they show up to work at the post office. Others of whom read these words will be vilified, and called traitors by their NRLCA leaders and membership. The same NRLCA leaders and membership whom refuse to accept any responsibility for their past silence and complicity. A silence and complicity that has allowed the U.S. Postal service to systematically dismantle almost all past Rural worker rights and benefits, never to be enjoyed by the future rural workforce.

The NRLCA in concert with the USPS have successfully devised an extraordinary complicated and confusing division of rural postal labor over the past few decades. One that pits older worker against younger worker, career worker against non-career worker, L-route worker against non-L worker and so on and so on. There are presently eight Rural worker designations, over 15 different pay steps, en numeral route sizes, L routes, non-L routes, DPS, non-DPS, and different pay tiers for identical working designations. This mishmash of complexity and idiocy, has effectively pitted Rural worker against Rural worker. This unnecessarily complicated system has also nullified any potential economic gains for most Rural workers. In the process, this Orwellian maze of confusion has also successfully fostered an atmosphere of apathy and ignorance among those controlled by its very rules, the Rural workers themselves.

It is my hope that some will read these words and know that they are not alone.

The silence in the Rural craft must end, for it is that silence that has become our greatest enemy.

You can forget about privatization, email, and automation, yes...we may indeed have much to fear from USPS mismanagement and bungling arrogant NRLCA officials to be sure, but by far our greatest enemy will be our own apathy and silence, and this above all else shall be our ultimate demise.

Keep up your noble struggle my friends.

With the highest respect.....
Bruce Harland

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How about a poem?

"Twas our contract extension
and all through the mess
not a substitute's hired
we'll get PTF's

Our union to help us
gave up our relief
they said for our own good
that was their belief

and management smiled
their grin was so sly
get that off the table
just kiss that goodbye

And now for the pay
for the mileage used
let's cut that  a little
and keep them confused

and maybe we'll do
something sweet in a way
we'll give the poor fools
employee appreciation day

Some places have missed it
and some missed it not
why here  in our office
umbrellas  we got
 
So maybe I don't need
a raise in my pay
I'll stroll to the poor house
and stay dry on the way.
 

by-Maryann Dymond
Merriweatherfarm@aol.com

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(The following article was written by Bob Short, rural letter carrier from Nebraska)
A Refresher Course on Voter Education


To all those who do not vote, I thank you very much! Each person who does not vote empowers me that much more, makes my vote stronger and more meaningful. The way election trends have been going, I may yet be able to elect myself King! Less and less people voting, either because they don't care or are too lazy, or for whatever reason, means that the majority of the people are being governed by the rules of the minority. This is not a pretty picture! It seems that there is plenty to gripe and complain about...until it is time for election, time to do something constructive about changing the status quo, time to make your voice heard. Well that time will soon be upon us again. Are we ready to take up the challenge of being responsible rural carriers and attempt to correct the inequities in our system, or will the griping and complaining fade to a whisper at election time and resurface again after all the conventions?

I really appreciate and even commend those who do not vote because for one reason or another, they were not able to apprise themselves of all the issues and the candidates. "Stuff" really does happen, and sometimes we are not able to make an informed vote, and no vote at all is better than an uninformed vote. When the decision has to be made for your next delegation to national convention, will you have the information you need to be an informed voter? Do you know where to get the information?

The best criteria is the information you have stored within you. Do you like what is going on in your office, on your route, at the district or area level, or at national? Do you have pet peeves about your job, your boss, his/her boss? This is where the issues start, right in your own back yard. Your little gripe could evolve into a contract issue on the national level. Know what you like and don't like about your job, and find the candidates who most closely align with your views.

Now, where do you find these candidates? Yeah, yeah, everybody says the same thing, "ya gotta go to the meetings". That IS where you will find your best candidates, because if they don't go to the meetings, they won't be very well informed either. READ that state paper instead of lining the birdcage with it. The articles by your officers will keep you informed on the issues and on how they react to the national debate. It's not mandatory, at least not where I come from, but your state officers do tend to become delegates too, so you need to know what their views are before those ballots arrive.

Speaking of ballots, usually there will be more candidates than there are positions to fill. DON'T VOTE FOR 'EM if you don't know who they are and how they stand on the issues important to you! If you can only align yourself with one candidate, then vote for ONE candidate. Do not vote because it is the man you know, vote because the candidate has views and opinions much like your own. If you don't know where they stand on the issues important to you don't vote for them, or you might really have something to gripe about after the conventions. Remember, just because you are allowed to vote for 15, 20, or 50 candidates, doesn't mean you HAVE to vote for that many.

If you are really serious about being informed, and circumstance prevents you from going to meetings, put the issues that you are most concerned about into questions on a self addressed post card, and mail it to your candidates.

One final review, go to meetings, read your paper, know your issues and candidates, and vote sparingly and wisely.

--Robert H. Short, Nebraska

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