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Trenton Metro Area Local

American Postal Workers Union

AFL-CIO

Bill Lewis, President

 

 

Chemical / Biological Agents in the Mail

 Who is next?

 Are we as a union prepared to assist our members?

 The gloves and the masks are gone for most of us. Anthrax is a distant nightmare unless you are still living it.   Day after day I hear of another scare; anthrax, ricin and bombs in the mail passing through the hands of our members. 

The latest ricin crisis was not a false alarm.  Was the APWU prepared to deal with another large-scale plant closing?  Did we have the method or means locally to deliver the urgent messages to our membership on receiving medical treatment?  What rights do they have and how will they deal with this issue?

How long before there is another postal worker killed, injured or before more lives are disrupted?  Can we stop these terrorists? A difficult task, at best.  Can we formulate plans to deal with these crises and assist our members? The answer is yes.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned during the anthrax attack was that the membership wants to be kept informed.  Effective communication with your membership during any crisis is paramount.  A true leader is someone who will step up and take charge during a disaster. People in general want someone to lead them during these perilous times.  The USPS was absent from this role.  They were unable to deliver the critical information in a timely manner because they had no means of conveying life saving messages to their employees.  They did not have, nor did they earn, the trust of their employees.

As local leaders you must develop a quick method of delivering your message to the membership. An E-Mail list was created in Trenton and employees posted the E-Mail on makeshift bulletin boards.  Over sixty percent of the Trenton members have E-Mail.  The Postal Service became dependent upon the local’s E-Mail network to deliver the messages of where and when to receive

the antibiotics so desperately needed to save lives.  The local’s web page also played an important part in assisting delivery of important information.  The local union office became the command post for all employees to call and receive up to date information.

The Postal Service was unable to reach employees during the Trenton anthrax attack.  The local’s union membership list then came into play.  Locals should update and maintain their membership lists and should also attempt to include member’s phone numbers and email addresses.

It is important that this information be maintained outside the Postal Facility.  Once a facility is closed due to anthrax, or another biological/chemical agent, the facility becomes off limits and you cannot access your information.  Grievances and other important information should be housed off site and away from these facilities.

Overall, the postal service failed miserably when it came to doing the right thing during the Trenton Anthrax Attack.  Some of the “lowlights” are:

  • Lack of communication
  • Failing to inform employees to receive immediate medical attention
  • Contractual rights being violated
  • OWCP rights being denied
  • Refusal to pay medical bills
  • Denying employees claims for lost contents in the building
  • Postal Management must be held accountable for their actions, and the most effective method is to expose them in the media.  Local unions should develop media contacts.  The media wants to hear from the union with their version of the events.  You must make it as humanistic as possible, detailing the hardships imposed upon employees, the illness, lack of medical care and lack of urgency on behalf of the Postal Service.  A press release should be prepared and faxed or emailed to all the news stations and newspapers.  The media is also a crucial element in my email network.

    Another key is development of a relationship with your political leaders.  This includes the mayor, city council, congresswomen/congressmen, senators and staff members.  If and when a crisis hits, reach out to them to assist in getting the members the needed medical treatment and support.  They will respond!  This can effectively result in positive media coverage.  As a priority, I keep all my elected officials updated through phone calls, emails and faxes.

    Two days after the shut down of the anthrax contaminated P&DC a union meeting was held.  The New Jersey Board of Health, US Postal Service and the APWU Safety and Health Department were all invited to update the members and to answer any of their medical questions.  The following month the CDC was in attendance to bring them up to speed.

    As you can see a comprehensive plan must be developed and implemented when a scare or attack takes place.  I have raised this issue at many APWU assemblies as well as our state convention in NJ.  All locals will require assistance, whether small or large.  The APWU must also have an Emergency Preparedness Plan with representatives available to assist locals.  This plan would include:

  • Safety and Health
  • Legislative Contacts
  • Contract Administration
  • Media Assistance
  • OWCP
  • The locals should not rely upon Washington or the Regional Coordinators for assistance; they should provide what is necessary at the onset of the emergency.  

    These plans cannot be developed during the crisis or put into motion without careful and adequate preparation and proper funding.

    With the deployment of the new Bio-Detection & Air Filtration Systems more plants will be subject to shut downs due to these systems’ activation.  The new systems will detect DNA forcing the local health department to grow cultures to see if the spores are alive.  This will definitely cause a disruption in the post office operations.

     

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    The Trenton Anthrax Experience

    Factual Record / History Of

    The Trenton Anthrax Travel Grievances

     

     

    1.  On Thursday, October 18, 2001, the Trenton Processing and Distribution Center in Hamilton Township, New Jersey was closed due to the discovery of Anthrax.

    2.  Effective Friday, October 19, 2001, the USPS issued a directive stating, “All Trenton Processing and Distribution Center employees will be temporarily reassigned to either the Kilmer Processing and Distribution Center or Monmouth Processing and Distribution Center.”

    3.  Trenton employees began reporting for duty and working at those facilities on Friday, October 19, 2001.

    4.  Subsequent to October 19, 2001, on approximately November 17, 2001, some Trenton Processing and Distribution Center employees were assigned to another temporary duty station at South River New Jersey.

    5.  Commencing November 17, 2001, the Trenton Processing and Distribution Center employees temporarily assigned to the Monmouth Processing and Distribution Center were gradually assigned to the South River Material Distribution Center.

    6.  Effective December 1, 2001, some Trenton Processing and Distribution Center employees temporarily assigned to the Kilmer Processing and Distribution Center, Monmouth Processing and Distribution Center and South River Material Distribution Centers were temporarily reassigned to the Toms River Post Office.

    7.  Via notices dated November 13, 2001 and November 14, 2001, the USPS notified the APWU that compensation for travel to the temporary duty stations would not be paid to Trenton employees.

    8.  Said notices espoused the position that the Monmouth Processing and Distribution Center, Kilmer Processing and Distribution Center and New Brunswick Computerized Forwarding Systems Unit were “within the local commuting area” and, therefore, Trenton employees were not to be compensated for travel time to their temporary duty stations.

     

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     The grievances were discussed during the arbitration review process as outlined in the MOU signed by Bill Burrus and Doug Tulino.   

    The grievances are scheduled for arbitration in accordance with the MOU (1st time).

     

  • USPS and Regional Coordinator agree to the postponement of the first arbitration hearing under their plea and disguise of availability of USPS advocates.
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    The grievances are rescheduled for arbitration (2nd time).

     

    USPS has exparte contact with the arbitrator canceling the arbitrator’s appearance after the APWU informed the USPS they would have to move for a postponement at the arbitration hearing before the arbitrator.

     

  • Unilateral cancellation of arbitration date by the USPS.  They never notified the union until the arbitrator failed to appear at the hearing.
  •  

    The grievances are rescheduled for arbitration (3rd time).

     

  • USPS informs the arbitrator they are not available for any dates to hear the grievance.
  •  

  • USPS notifies APWU that they are appealing the grievances to Step 4 after the arbitrator directs the parties to pick a date after the USPS cancels the third date.
  •  

  • USPS fails to submit any position to the APWU within the time frame for Step 4 interpretive submission.
  •  

    APWU’s Director of Industrial Relation returns the grievances to regional level for arbitration.

     

  • Regional Coordinator requests that the USPS agree to reschedule cases for arbitration.
  •  

  • USPS refuses to set a date to arbitrate after grievances are returned from step 4.
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  • USPS notifies the APWU they are appealing the grievances to step 4 for a second time.
  •  

    The grievances are discussed at step 4.

     

  • The USPS is now requesting to discuss the grievances for the second time at step 4.
  •  

    How many times are we going to allow the Postal Service additional time to perfect their position? 

     

     

    We Demand This Fraud To Stop!

     

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    Action taken by Trenton Metro Area Local to counter

    Management’s Stall/Delay Tactics.

     

  • Media campaign to expose the treatment of Trenton Anthrax victims.
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    Massive Internet exposure of management’s abuse of the Step 4 provisions of the CBA to stall and delay arbitration hearings.

     

  • All Trenton Employees sent a post card to Postmaster Potter requesting intervention.
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    The Local union is holding hard on other grievances to protest management’s abuse of the Grievance/Arbitration process.

     

  • Withholding of labor by increased grievance investigation.
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    The local is moving into Federal Court to compel arbitration.  The decision to go to court is based on the extensive record of cancellations and delays of the arbitration dates and the overall refusal by the USPS to arbitrate.

       

    We are seeking assistance from other locals and state organizations to join in and support our struggle.  Sending prepared post cards we have brought to this conference to Postmaster Potter is the start.

    The USPS has withheld over 15 million dollars in wages owed to the Trenton APWU members who have been victimized due to the anthrax attack.  By the time the Trenton P&DC reopens, the withheld wages owed to the Trenton APWU Workers will exceed 20 million dollars.

    Could your facility be the next one closed due to possible future terrorist attacks?  The odds of a shut down will greatly increase with the deployment of the new bio detection system this year.  

    The USPS is counting on the “Black Hole”, which is the Step 4 process of our Collective Bargaining Agreement, delay payment for 10 years or more.  We must not allow this to happen.

       

     

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