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October 24, 2014


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Excess to the Needs . . .
Posted On: Jun 12, 2008 (16:07:42)

"Excess" This term, common in Postal Service jargon - far too common these days - continues to carry its normal connotations. It means, of course, that something is outside or beyond some controlling need or norm. It implies that something is unessential or less than worthwhile. And it is this implication of unworthiness that adds to the impact of the term when it is applied to persons. When Postal employees hear they are, or may be, determined to be excess to the needs of a section or of the installation where they work, it is only natural these workers feel somehow demeaned. It is bad enough to know that being determined excess means that a change is impending, it is made worse by the implication that we are somehow of less worth.

Any employer will have inherent rights to determine whether - at any given time - the workforce is larger than necessary to meet the employer's needs. Without a Union contract, almost any worker is subject to be "let go" as a result of a purely discretionary decision of the employer. And not all Union contracts provide reassignment security in the way the APWU contract does. Coupled with Article 6 provisions against lay off, the terms of Article 12 for reassignment afford workers a level of job security not even imagined by most American workers today. Unfortunately, that seems to be little comfort when it is 'me' who is on the receiving end of reassignment due to excessing. What may be of some comfort is better understanding of how the process is supposed to work.

Maintenance Craft workers have had little reason to understand the intricacies of Article 12, because the changes in the Postal Service over the past forty years have generally been to the advantage of Maintenance Craft jobs - not threatening to them. Times change. The Postal Service's present approach (self-destruction to advance the ideology of privatization) includes the closing of offices where significant numbers of Maintenance Craft employees work. And we need to understand how Article 12 provisions are supposed to work to our benefit.

It is tremendously important to understand that the effects of Article 12 provisions are very much different for Maintenance Craft workers from the effects on employees of the other Crafts. The general provisions - to keep the impact minimal, to provide appropriate notification, etc. - apply to everyone. The specific provisions that apply to Maintenance Craft workers are generally limited to the terms of Article 12, Section 5.C.4. and Section 5.C.5. That being the case, it is a common mistake to read other portions of Section 5 and try to make sense of their impact on Maintenance Craft workers.

No brief article can fully describe all the details of the workings of Article 12. This will be no such attempt. However, some of the most significant elements of excessing and reassignment can be addressed here. But I will limit this to discussion of the situation in which the Service determines that it needs to reduce the size of the Maintenance Craft complement of an installation by employing the provisions of Article 12.

Section 5.C. establishes some very specific provisions for handling of affected workers under very specific conditions. Each condition carries its own implications, but only two conditions apply to Maintenance Craft reassignments where "excess to the needs of the installation" is involved.

These conditions are controlled by Section 5.C.5. and occur when the Postal Service decides that the number of Maintenance Craft workers in an installation is excess to its needs - in other words, the Service determines it needs to reduce the overall complement of the Maintenance Craft in the installation. One consequence of such a decision may be the reassignment of affected employees to vacant positions outside the Craft, but within the installation. The other consequence may be the reassignment of affected employees within or outside the Craft, but also outside the installation.

It would be unusual that the Service would reduce the overall Maintenance complement in an installation while having enough other positions in the installation to permit reassignment to another Craft within the installation. Generally, changes to an installation's operation sufficient to affect the overall Maintenance complement occur where the other Crafts' positions are also being reduced - as in the case of a so-called "consolidation" of postal installations. When the Service closes or greatly diminishes an installation in favor of moving its operations to another location, virtually every Craft is impacted and loses jobs. Consequently, for the Maintenance Craft, reassignment within the employee's present installation to another Craft is unlikely to occur. However, if it can be done, it must be accomplished prior to making reassignments outside the installation. Should such a reassignment occur, these protections/requirements apply -

  • Pay protection if placed in a lower level job (saved grade);
  • Selection by seniority of available positions if multiple reassignments occur;
  • New seniority in the Craft to which reassigned;
  • Assured return to Maintenance when residual vacancy occurs; and
  • Restoration of Maintenance seniority if and when returned.

It is more likely, when the Service determines it has a need to reduce the overall Maintenance Craft complement of an installation, that excess employees would be reassigned to another installation. When this occurs, the Service is obligated to make reassignments to another installation as close as possible to the affected employees' present installation, but includes the obligation upon the Service to find vacant positions wherever they may exist. This, of course, includes the Service's process of withholding vacant positions as they occur in nearby installations in order to accommodate reassignments. Maintenance Craft employees would then be identified as being excess by occupational group, with the Service determining its necessary complement for each occupational group. Junior employees (according to Maintenance Craft installation seniority) would then be notified of involuntary reassignment outside the installation to positions in the same or lower level, first within the Craft or, if necessary, outside the Craft. Should such reassignments occur, these protections/obligations apply -

  • Relocation expenses may accrue to reassignments according to the '50-mile rule';
  • Pay protection if placed in a lower level job (saved grade);
  • Selection by seniority of available positions if multiple reassignments occur;
  • New seniority if reassigned into a different Craft;
  • Retention of 'installation' seniority as if no change in installation, if reassigned to a Maintenance Craft vacancy;
  • Opportunity to secure retreat rights to Maintenance Craft when residual vacancy occurs in former installation;
  • Retreat rights include option to accept or reject lower level vacancy without jeopardizing all retreat rights;
  • Continued saved grade protection if retreating to lower level than former position; and
  • Restoration of Maintenance seniority ('installation' and 'preferred assignment') if and when returned.

Maintenance Craft workers involved in these situations also need to know a few other important points. In order to be reassigned into a Maintenance Craft job, an affected employee must have a qualifying score for that job in the MSS or non-MSS PER evaluation process. This is because the parties have so defined "qualified" and because reassignments are only made into jobs "for which qualified". For example, a MPE8 or ET11 who has only ever achieved a qualifying score for MPE8 or ET11 cannot be considered qualified for MM5, MSC5, BEM8 or any number of other Maintenance Craft jobs - for lack of an appropriate qualifying score.

Because the identification of excess jobs is made by occupational group and because there is no bumping in reassignment procedures, it may happen that a senior employee of one occupational group may be reassigned out of an installation while a junior employee of a different occupational group could remain.

A senior employee (not being reassigned) may volunteer to take the place of a junior employee for reassignment outside the installation. Such an employee is not afforded retreat rights and takes on the seniority of the employee replaced. The Postal Service must post notice of these opportunities with a list of withheld, available jobs.

Additionally, reassignments cannot be made to higher level positions. Employees affected by Article 12 provisions for involuntary reassignment can only be reassigned into same or lower level jobs. Article 38 requires that reassigned employees receiving saved grade must apply for inclusion on PER's for positions at their former level.

In order to secure the retreat rights connected with reassignment outside the installation, an affected employee must submit a written request to have right of retreat to the installation from which reassigned. This request must be honored and guarantees specific retreat rights under Article 12 and under Article 38.

Where more than one installation's employees are being affected and reassigned "within a close geographic area" at the same time, the Union and the Service must meet at the regional level to determine a "pecking order" for the affected employees' reassignment and selection rights.

With the Postal Service moving forward on its "Transformation" plans, we may expect to see significant numbers of Maintenance Craft employees needing to invoke rights under Articles 12 and 38. It is essential that procedures for reassignments of excess employees be properly implemented at the time these actions occur. The Local Union and the individual members must take an active role in assuring negotiated protections are applied properly. We simply cannot afford to allow management to mismanage life changing personnel actions as badly as it mismanages the business of the Postal Service.

(First published in September 2007)

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