The U.S. Postal Service must rescind a recent policy that its employees cannot take union official leave without pay to undertake “partisan political activity,” third party arbitrator Stephen B. Goldberg ruled August 6.
The Postal service instituted the change to the Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM) after a July 2017 Office of Special Counsel investigation called for the removal of such leave practices as they constituted a “systemic violation of the Hatch Act,” which restricts political campaign activities by federal employees.
In the surprise move, President Donald Trump said that USPS is on “an unsustainable financial path” and “must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout.”
But the American Postal Workers Union argued that the change violated rules preventing the Postal Service from making mid-term changes to leave policies and from making unilateral changes affecting wages, hours and other terms and conditions of employment without notice and consultation with the union.
The arbitrator ruled in the union’s favor, stating that the OSC did not have the authority to determine whether a violation of the Hatch Act has occurred, as that authority rests with the Merit Systems Protection Board. The Postal Service was therefore under no obligation to change its leave policies without consulting the union.
“To be sure, ignoring an OSC opinion or allegation creates the risk that OSC will institute proceedings before the MSPB. The possibility that it will do so does not, however, lead to the conclusion that the Postal Service need not abide by its contractual commitment to arbitrate,” Goldberg wrote in his award.
“I have found that the Postal Service violated Article 10.2, Article 5, and Article 19 in the changes it made to ELM Exhibit 514.4 and Postal Service Form 3971, and will, as the Union requests, direct the Postal Service to rescind those changes. I shall also direct the Postal Service to make whole any employees disciplined or whose LWOP requests were denied because they indicated they were requesting ‘union official’ LWOP to engage in partisan political activity.”
According to an APWU news release on the award, this means that its members can still continue to volunteer in political campaigns under LWOP.
“This is what workers in a union do – make management respect their legal rights,” said APWU President Mark Diamondstein. “Process matters, and we earn process and have a real voice when we come together, both in bargaining and in politics.”
Government Executive first reported on the award.