Arbitrator Denies Rural Letter Carriers Fletters Grievance

The National Rural Letter Carriers Association (NRLCA) objected to the Postal Service’s insistence that “fletters” (Flats and Letters) be processed on flats automation equipment when they can just as easily be processed as letters. As a result, they said mail is being improperly presented to rural carriers for delivery.

Former NRLCA President Gus Baffa’s Letter to USPS Contract Administrator Andrea Wilson (2/27/03)
The method of presenting certain mailpieces, mailpieces that the United States Postal Service has unofficially identified as “fletters”, to rural carriers constitutes a violation of, but not limited to, the USPS/NRLCA National Agreement MO-38, and Handbook PO-603. The Postal Service is consciously and by design diverting mail from the mailstream that is compatible with letter automation equipment to equipment intended to process oversized letter mail and flat mail. Although not strictly limited to the AFSM 100 flat sorting machines, the occurrence of the contractual violation is most commonly associated with the AFSM 100’s. This processing irregularity resuls in mail that is not properly presented to rural carriers. The Association seeks an appropriate remedy including an immediate cessation of this practice.

In a long-awaited decision, National Arbitrator Dana Eischen denied the Association’s class action grievance challenging the Postal Service’s practice of commingling letter-sized mail with flats when mail sorted on flat-sorting machines is presented to rural carriers for casing. We are extremely disappointed with the outcome and distressed at the limited analysis Arbitrator Eischen gave to the issue in the final four pages of his decision. Arbitrator Eischen did not acknowledge and ignored altogether most of the arguments advanced by the Association in support of the grievance.

Arbitrator Dana Edward Eischen’s 11-13-07 award on the merits of the NRLCA’s National “Fletters” grievance

As I understand it, the Association’s fundamental position is that the language of P0-603 Chapter 2, §212.13, 212.2,222 and 223, supra, and “past practice” thereunder, evidence a mutual intent of the parties, albeit by implication, that the Postal Service is contractually barred from presenting to rural carriers for casing Post-Wells machine -processed “fletters” which are “commingled” in flat tubs with other machine-processed flat-sized mail pieces. [Handbook P0-603 was jointly adopted by the parties in June 1991, as the successor to Handbook M-37, issued in May 1983. That handbook, in Sections 211,222 and 223, described the letter and flat presentation and casing provisions in virtually identical language to that in P0-603. (Postal Service Exhibit 7.) The prior version of Handbook M 37 was issued in December 1965 and likewise contains the same letter and flat presentation and casing requirements. (Postal Service Exhibit 8.)].

Below is the actual excerpt from the file.

In my considered judgement, the Association failed to carry its burden of persuasion that the Postal Service is violating Article 19 and Chapter 2, §2 12.13, 212.2,222 and 223 of the P0-603, on and after February 3, 2002, in the facts and circumstances presented on the record before me in this case. Certainly nothing in the literal language of §212 of P0-603 Chapter 2 establishes an express bar or prohibition on the Postal Service’s machine-processing of Post-Wells 5 to 6 1/8 sized “fletters” on the AFSM 100 or UFSM 1000 flat-sorting machines or a contractual commitment to present such “fletters” for casing exclusively in the “raw letter stream”. Nor does the record demonstrate an implicit mutual intent of the parties to be bound by such a bar or commitment by persuasive evidence of an openly acknowledged, mutually recognized and consistently applied longstanding “past practice”. Finally, the Association failed to establish by a preponderance of the record evidence its primary premise that continued machine-processing of Post-Wells 5 to 6 1/8 sized “fletters” on the AFSM 100 or UFSM 1000 flat-sorting machines and presentation of Post Wells “fletters” in flat tubs requires “double-handling” during the “taco-method” of casing, thereby making compliance with the requirements of Chapter 2, § 222 and 223 of the P0-603 virtually “impossible”.

Based upon all of the foregoing, the grievance in National Arbitration Case No. QOOR-4Q-C 03089889 is denied.