Department of Labor Files Motion To Consolidate USPS Electrical Safety Charges

APWU Web News Article 081-2010, Aug. 6, 2010

The Department of Labor (DOL) is seeking to consolidate complaints regarding the Postal Service’s ongoing and systemic violations of safe electrical work practices, and has initiated settlement discussions with the Postal Service in an attempt to correct the hazards. The DOL has invited the APWU to participate in the discussions.

Responding to APWU safety complaints, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued fines of more than $3.7 million for “willful and serious” electrical safety violations at 17 USPS facilities since January. Inspectors found that the Postal Service failed to provide employees working on electrically energized machinery with adequate training and protective equipment. The violations expose workers to the risk of severe electric shock, burns, or death, OSHA concluded.

In a motion filed Aug. 3 [PDF], the Secretary of Labor said that the Postal Service has approximately 260 Mail Processing & Distribution Centers and Network Distribution Centers across the country with similar hazards. In a cover letter accompanying the motion, the DOL Solicitor’s Office wrote, “Inspections continue with more citations expected.”

“Given the common issues and parties, and the number of citations to be issued in total, which may exceed 30-40, a consolidation of all these cases would conserve judicial and litigation resources,” the letter said.

On July 6 the DOL filed a complaint requesting “enterprise-wide” relief for the safety violations. The complaint asks the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission to order the Postal Service to correct the violations; uphold the fines and penalties; conduct training on safe electrical work practices; provide personal protective equipment to affected employees, and withdraw flawed management orders and instructions regarding safe electrical work practices.

“The Department of Labor motion to consolidate the cases would merge these similar complaints so that the result of any litigation or settlement discussions would be applied to every postal facility where APWU members are exposed to electrical hazards,” said Greg Bell, APWU Director of Industrial Relations. “It would provide a uniform remedy and prevent the Postal Service and OSHA from negotiating separate, individual settlements at different locations.” Bell noted that the DOL’s motion mentioned 260 facilities and said, “The APWU is adamant that any settlement must be applied to all postal facilities that have deficient electrical safety work practices.”

The motion also requests a 90-day “stay,” which would hold proceedings in abeyance to allow the parties to pursue negotiations at the national level without being hampered by discovery issues or mandatory settlement proceedings. The stay would not prevent OSHA from conducting inspections or filing additional complaints.

The APWU has intervened as a party to the proceedings, which will ensure that the union is notified of developments in the case and given the opportunity to present the union’s position.

The APWU attended a preliminary meeting with representatives of the DOL, OSHA, and the USPS on July 27 to begin discussions of a possible remedy for the safety violations. “Throughout this process, the APWU will continue to insist that these outrageous hazards are corrected and that union members are protected,” Bell said.