The following is an editorial by Attorney Robert McGill written exclusively for PostalReporter.com
The fox will gnaw its hind leg off in order to escape from the claws of a trap, to go away injured and less of a predator, but to return to survive for another day. But man – that most unfortunate of creatures – would consider committing suicide in order to escape a momentary feeling of despair, or because of a lost love, or a bad hair day. Self-destruction to escape a fleeting feeling of despair is not in the character of a fox; only in man, and that indeed is a profound flaw. So who are we to speak of character flaws, when the test of such character reveals such vacuity of self-worth? From Proverbs of Men and Beasts
The systematic destruction of the U.S. Postal Service – by most accounts, a model of efficiency, compared to the plenitude of Postal horror stories in foreign countries, whether third world, industrialized or striving to become so – is a methodical revelation of a mismanaged business venture. Like watching a football team play not to lose, observing the U.S. Postal Service – a Constitutionally mandated entity – is a slow exercise in torture. Declarations that “service” will not be sacrificed as multiple distribution centers across the country are savagely cut will only reverberate hollowly as the chasm between reality and such words of condescending niceties abound. The problem in this day and age is not only centered around truth, appearance, and falsehood, but the realization that the virtual world of language must correspond with the real world of consequences in order to retain any meaning.
There is a rush to the exit door, and it is not because someone has yelled “fire” at a Postal Facility; rather, it is because the trickle-down reality of Corporate excesses, mismanagement and Congressional disregard of a once-vital and important institution has devastated the renowned organization once deemed a paradigm of American efficiency. Part of the exit door has come about through attrition; some through incentives of early retirements; others through Federal Disability Retirement. It is this latter course which is the focus of this article.
As an attorney who represents Federal and Postal employees to obtain Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS, the alarming rate of increase in Postal Workers desiring to file for this important benefit obviously has a partial explanatory causal factor: Bad management. The cases of filing for Federal Disability Retirement are all valid, viable, and completely compliant with the criteria of Federal Disability Retirement eligibility. However, the question really is not one of eligibility; rather, the concern is one of accelerated magnitude.
For, the success of any continuing capital venture must embrace, at a minimum, a widely recognized 3-part approach: Future planning which must include expansion; present work which brings income and assets to perform at optimal utility; and lastly, caring treatment of past workers, thereby fostering loyalty, a sense of trust and contentment, which makes for productive real-time workers and sets in motion a brighter day for tomorrow. The business plan and pathway to success is never a mystery; what is mysterious is why such an entity as the U.S. Postal Service would undermine a successful business plan and opt instead for short-term gain and long-term obsolescence.
At the cost of sounding “preachy”, there is a saying [without, of course, quoting directly from a taboo source of such a saying] that how one treats the most vulnerable in a society reveals the true character of an individual –- and of an organization. The tragedy is that injured workers, if given the chance, would continue to work, and work at a pace and effort of equal or greater productivity as those who are perfectly healthy.
For many years – often, decades – injured workers at the U.S. Postal Service were given modified job duty assignments, and continued to remain productive and a vital part of the workforce. The puzzle is that, all during the time of being on a limited duty assignment, or a “modified” work assignment, the Postal Worker always remained fully eligible to file for, and be qualified to receive, Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. Under the statutes and cases governing eligibility for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, “Light Duty” never did constitute an “accommodation” under the law (if it did, such an accommodation would preclude one from filing for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS), and therefore the Postal Worker who was injured, who was working in a modified, light duty position, could have at any time filed for Federal Disability Retirement benefits under FERS or CSRS. (See Bracey v. Office of Personnel Management, 236 F.3d 1356, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2001) ) But they didn’t.
In what can only be characterized as a semi-mass exodus, the U.S. Postal Service is being systematically depleted of its best and brightest. There is a price to pay for the loss of experience; for, while newer workers and workers with less experience may be paid less, the combination of the learning curve and experience void is exponentially magnified when the curve has no senior pitcher to lead the team of novices and the inexperience results in greater inefficiency and incompetence. For, the ultimate test of a successful organization is not whether or not it offers attractive “benefits”. Most organizations of any notable success – whether in the private sector or at the State or Federal level – offer a competitive package of benefits. The Federal Government, which includes U.S. Postal Workers, offers the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement, allowing the Postal Worker to essentially retire early if and when he or she is no longer able to perform one or more of the essential elements of the job, so long as there is no available accommodation, and further, allowing for the Postal Worker to remain productive in another job, perhaps a second “career”. Indeed, Bracey stated unequivocally that an agency cannot stop a disability retirement application “by assigning an injured employee to an ad hoc set of light duties as long as it continues to pay the employee at the same level as before”. (Bracey, 236 F.3d 1356, at p. 1362) The result of the Bracey decision was to further ease the ability of the Postal Worker to go out on Federal Disability Retirement.
But throughout all these years, availing oneself of the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement never took on the character of a mass exodus. For, ultimately, the test of the viability of an organization is not that it offers attractive benefits – rather, the true test is gauged by how quickly the employees attempt to access such benefits. Time was that the Postal Worker did not want to retire. The camaraderie, the sense of corporate belonging, with a systematic view of future growth and profitability, all combined to provide a common belief of employment security. Compare the present travails with such a time past, and one need only observe the upper management corporate excesses while the craft employees – from Letter Carriers, Mail Processing Clerks, Mail Handlers, Distribution Clerks, Maintenance workers, Electronic Technicians, and all those who engage in the daily, arduously repetitive work which places an unnatural strain upon the entire musculature, joints and skeletal vulnerabilities with undue stress and strain, leading to resultant injuries of lifetime chronic pain, irreversible damage and severe, intractable disabilities – suffer the systematic dismantling of a once-marveled system of postal distribution of a massive scale and volume.
But such injuries and medical conditions have always existed throughout the tenure of the U.S. Postal Service. Accepting that, what is the difference between then and now? Why the exponential accessing of the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS? Medical disabilities have always been an inseparable result of the hard work of the U.S. Postal Service. Eligibility crieria to qualify for Federal Disability Retirement benefits have not changed greatly over the years. Yet, the increase in the number of Federal and Postal employees accessing the benefit of a Federal Disability Retirement annuity cannot merely be attributed to coincidence. Rather, the coalescing factors of the methodical dismantling of the U.S. Postal Service, combined with the loss of goodwill resulting from the mistreatment of its workers, and more notably of its most vulnerable – those already disabled from multiple repetitive-use injuries; and intersecting with already having met the eligibility criteria for Federal Disability Retirement benefits, whether under FERS or CSRS.
The accessing of the benefit of Federal Disability Retirement reveals more about the loss of faith in the future of a once great organization – the U.S. Postal Service – than about the Postal Workers who have come to the end of a career with the organization. Federal Disability Retirement from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is a benefit which has been there for the Postal Worker for many years, first for CSRS employees, then for FERS & CSRS employees. For the Postal Worker who can no longer perform one or more of the essential elements of one’s job, the benefit is accessible, and allows for the Postal Worker to move on with his or her life. Coincidence aside, many are doing just that.
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.