APWU Wins Important Maintenance Subcontracting Grievance


The union won a major victory against subcontracting Feb. 10, when Arbitrator Shyam Das directed the USPS to assign Maintenance Craft employees to maintain computers at approximately 8,000 of the nation’s largest associate offices. The arbitrator also instructed management and the union to discuss the possibility of assigning additional computer maintenance work at AOs to the Maintenance Craft.

The dispute arose more than a decade ago, when the APWU challenged the Postal Service’s decision to subcontract installation and maintenance of an Associate Office Infrastructure (AOI). Management notified the union in 1996 of plans to subcontract the work, which it said consisted of site surveys, installation of wiring, hardware, and telecommunication equipment, as well as acceptance and testing of the apparatus.

When the union requested a meeting with management to discuss the work and its impact on the APWU bargaining unit, the Postal Service refused and wrote that the effect on the union would be “both negligible in the immediate term and unknown in the future.”

The union filed a Step 4 Interpretive Dispute asserting that the work in question was bargaining unit work and protesting the decision to assign it to private contractors. The Postal Service rejected the union’s position, writing that the work it subcontracted “is not work that has ever been within the jurisdiction of the bargaining unit,” and asserting that the USPS had no obligation to notify the APWU of its plans.

In his as concluded that the program “obviously involved a considerable amount of work,” including replacing modems, T-1 lines and other telephone wiring that had been maintained, and, at least to some extent, installed by maintenance craft employees.

“Under these circumstances, I find that the Postal Service was obliged to meet and discuss the matter with the Union” consistent with Article 32.1.B of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, he wrote.

“The evidence supports a finding that the bargaining unit had the skill and capability” to install the cabling and the computer servers, Das said. If the Postal Service had met with the union before finalizing its decision to contract out all the AOI work, the union might have been able to persuade management that at least some of it could have been assigned to the Maintenance Craft, consistent with Article 32.1.A, he concluded.

“The union was not given that opportunity, to which it was entitled, and an appropriate remedy should be provided,” he ruled.

Das instructed the union and management to discuss an appropriate retroactive remedy, and retained jurisdiction over the matter in the event the parties are unable to reach agreement, in accordance with the union’s request.

“I am extremely gratified by this award,” said Maintenance Craft Director Steve Raymer. “This was a team effort by all of the Maintenance Division national officers and the union’s attorneys.

“Although the installation of the infrastructure has been accomplished, we should immediately receive the work associated with maintaining it.

“The case was extremely important in our efforts to define Maintenance Craft bargaining unit work and to clarify management’s obligation to the union regarding subcontracting. We will meet with our counterparts in management as soon as possible to discuss implementation of the award and to determine a suitable remedy.”

Industrial Relations Director Greg Bell praised the decision. “Arbitrator Das made it clear that the simple fact that Maintenance Craft employees had the skills to perform the work in question, and that some of the work was within the scope of duties performed by the bargaining unit, meant that management was obligated to meet with the union on subcontracting. The ruling is significant, and I applaud the Maintenance Division officers for their work on this case.”