Editorial: Abusive Postal Supervisors Plague the Workplace

by Jim Burke, APWU Eastern Region Coordinator

A problem that continues to be a plague on the Postal Service workplace is abusive supervisors.

There are certain supervisors who simply cannot manage to treat employees with dignity and respect. And there are other supervisors — including many good ones — who are victims of the system: They serve abusive higher-level managers, and are prevented from treating employees decently.

A number of programs have been created to address this matter, some effective, and some not. APWU President William Burrus instituted a system in which members identify abusive supervisors, and the regional coordinators do the follow-up. Most of the time, however, management turns the complaint over to an internal, management-only process.

Management programs that do not include union participation just aren’t effective. The natural “herd instinct” among managers means that too often their first individual or collective effort is to protect themselves. With management now having Merit Systems Protection Board rights, higher-level management claims it is very difficult to discipline supervisors. If you have a workplace where employees are being abused by a supervisor or supervisors — who themselves are protected — it’s natural that the employees will be reluctant to report abuse, due to fears of retaliation.

Joint Intervention

In the Eastern Region’s Eastern and Capitol Metro Areas, we have begun a Joint Intervention program. Its success has me hoping that the program will be instituted nationwide.

The program is for facilities where there have been widespread complaints that management treats employees in a hostile or demeaning manner, or where management feels the union is creating unnecessary strife. After a site has been chosen, I appoint an NBA, who teams up with an Area Management designee to interview employees and supervisors.

After the interviews, the team draws up a list of recommendations for possible implementation by the APWU coordinator and the Area manager of Labor Relations. I’ve been involved in 14 interventions, and all have been resolved to the satisfaction of both sides.

It takes a commitment from both labor and management to make the process work. We’ve proven it can be done in the Eastern Region and I hope it is tried everywhere. No one should have to dread coming to work because of hostility from either management or co-workers.

On a Personal Note

This is my last article as a National Officer. I intend to retire at the end of my term of office in November. I’ve been involved with the labor movement for 45 years, and I thank you for honoring me by electing me as your representative over the years.

I hope to become more involved in peace and anti-war activities. I’ve lived under all the presidents since FDR, and I believe the miscreant in office now is the worst. A generation of our young is being destroyed, just as was done in the Vietnam era. My favorite song from that time is “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye. This song is still apt today. (Joe Cocker did a great rendition as well. Try either.)

Goodbye, Jim Burke

source: May/June 2007 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.