The following is an editorial written for PostalReporter.com by Federal Disability Attorney Robert R. McGill
The distinction between a principle and a personal choice is tantamount to a starving man eyeing a delicious red apple; the apple itself may represent the perfection of all apples, and the very beauty of the fruit may be one of a kind; but the enjoyment of its very beauty is superseded by the base desire of man. Beauty and the appreciation of art, while great in principle, can only exist once the fundamental appetites are satisfied. — From The Lost Taoist
For a Postal worker, filing of grievances, EEO Complaints, being the pincushion for harassing supervisors, and working in constant pain have all become a commonplace part of a patchwork of a long and difficult career. Often, a decision must be made: should principle prevail, or should one remain quiet in a Postal career without making waves? Is the adversarial nature and confrontational requirements of filing a grievance, or a formal EEO Complaint, or an appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board, or even becoming involved in a class-action lawsuit – is it worth the aggravation, or should one quietly “move on”?
Sadly, this has been a haunting question which has plagued Postal Workers for the past decade or more. The workplace culture has become an altered landscape. There has not been a craft which has been left untouched. From the Letter Carrier (Rural or City) who once had the time and pleasure of greeting the neighbors; to the Mail Handler, Distribution Clerks, Mail Processing Clerks; from Sales and Service Associates to Electronic Technicians; from Custodians to Window Clerks – the culture of the workplace has changed. Whether as a result of increasing competition from private delivery companies, or because of the yearly deficit and chronic loss of revenue from email, technology, and top-heavy upper and middle management salaries, it is always the Craft Employee at the Postal Service who suffers from the trickle-down reality of a decaying system.
The National Reassessment Program (NRP) is merely the culminating movement of all of the prior, piecemeal attempts of an organization attempting to shed itself of a burdensome workforce. Modified or “light duty” assignments are now a thing of the past. If a Postal Worker has an accepted OWCP Claim, and is being paid Temporary Total Disability compensation, that Postal Worker has one of two options upon recovery from an on-the-job injury: upon rehabilitation from the injury, return to full duty, or remain on OWCP. There was a time when the Postal Service (in conjunction and cooperation with the Office of Worker’s Compensation Program coordinator) was offered a light duty, modified position – one which attempted to allow the Postal Worker to perform duties within the physical restrictions and limitations imposed by the medical condition, and the treating doctor. No more. In this day of streamlining and squeezing every ounce of productivity, past loyalties amount to no quantifiable good will. Either the Postal Worker is fully productive, or he or she is shown the exit.
Lawsuits – whether individual or class-action — challenging the National Reassessment Program, are all well and good. Fighting for a principle; challenging the legality of a monolithic program which blindly discriminates against the most vulnerable in a society – those with medical conditions which prevent them from performing the full panoply of a Postal job – is an admirable and worthwhile fight to engage in. But for the individual, there is always the problem of fighting for a cause while at the same time providing for one’s family, one’s future, and securing one’s income. For that, each individual must decide what is best for one’s personal circumstances.
Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS has always been an option for Postal Workers who have a chronic medical condition. Where a medical condition arose as a result of an occupational disease or an on-the-job injury, a claim under the Department of Labor, Office of Worker’s Compensation Programs was the first and primary option for a claim. However, because OWCP is not a “retirement system”, but rather a compensation program designed to allow for rehabilitation and reentry into the workforce, unless a medical condition was expected to last a minimum of 12 months or more, Federal Disability Retirement was and is a “second option” for most Postal Workers. If, on the other hand, the medical condition did not arise as a result of a work-related injury, then Federal Disability Retirement often became the primary option.
For most Postal employees, because of the very physical and repetitive nature of work required of Craft employees, the injuries which one sustained and incurred were more often than not, job-related. Everything from Cervical and Lumbar injuries to Rotator Cuff and Shoulder Impingement conditions; from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome to arthritic knees; from Plantar Fasciitis to radiating pain and chronic and diffuse pain – most such injuries could be attributed to the very physical and inherently high-impact nature of the duties required. Even Psychiatric medical conditions – of Major Depression, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, etc. – could often be successfully filed as an OWCP claim.
As an OWCP claim, rehabilitation and reentry into the Postal Service with either a modified light duty position in duties performed, or in number of hours worked (with the remaining hours being paid for by OWCP) was a possibility. But with the National Reassessment Program, and the general movement by the U.S. Postal Service to refuse any modified or light duty positions, the only option available has become Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS.
Because OWCP is not a retirement system, the NRP net which has been widely cast, has resulted in the tightening of options open. The purpose of the NRP has been to shed the U.S. Postal Service of all workers who are not fully productive. This then forces the Postal Employee to file for OWCP benefits. But because OWCP is not a retirement system, such benefits are neither permanent, nor predictably stable. Where does this leave the Postal Worker today? One can always file a lawsuit, or a grievance, or join a class-action lawsuit. The choice between fighting for a principle, or attempting to survive economically is always a hard one to make.
More and more, the option of filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS has been the preferred option. While Federal Disability Retirement benefits pays only 60% of the average of one’s highest three consecutive years the first year, then 40% every year thereafter, nevertheless, it is a stable base income which allows for the individual to go out into the private sector and make (in addition to the annuity) up to 80% of what one’s former position currently pays. As such, it is an option which can be attractive and viable for the Postal Worker today, precisely because the avenue of options have become more and more delimiting in this day and age.
About the Author
Attorney Robert R. McGill specializes in securing Federal Disability Retirement benefits for Federal and Postal workers under both FERS and CSRS. He represents Federal and Postal employees from all across the United States, from the West Coast to the East, and every state in between, as well as Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Europe, Japan, etc. For more information about his legal services, please visit his Federal Disability Retirement and U.S. Postal Service Disability Retirement websites