U.S. Postal Service:

Labor-Management Problems Persist on the Workroom Floor (Volume I)

GGD-94-201A: Published: Sep 29, 1994. Publicly Released: Oct 27, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed labor-management relations at the U.S. Postal Service, focusing on: (1) past efforts to improve relations; and (2) further opportunities to improve relations.

GAO found that: (1) labor-management problems have persisted for years at the Postal Service because leadership at all levels is unable to work together without third-party intervention to settle disputes; (2) many postal employees believe that they work in an atmosphere of intimidation and tension and that management is autocratic and does not allow employee input on work processes; (3) mid-level managers, first-line supervisors, and employees believe that the Service tolerates poor performance and that its reward and recognition system is inadequate; (4) negative opinions are more prevalent in mail processing plants than in customer service operations; (5) rural carriers, who have the most independence in performing their work, are the least dissatisfied with their work environment and management relations; (6) postal management believes that employees place their needs over the needs of the Service and unions believe that employees have to be protected from abusive management practices; (7) past efforts to improve relations have failed because of the lack of sustained management attention and the lack of commitment and participation by some unions; (8) on the national level, the Service has worked with postal unions and management associations to build a labor-management partnership and make the Service a more customer- and employee-oriented system, but the Service has not devised a strategy to initiate these efforts at the local level; and (9) the Service needs to change work relations to provide more flexibility and make changes in union contracts and personnel systems.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Chairman John McHugh, House Subcommittee on the Postal Service, held a hearing in November 1997 with representatives of the Postal Service and labor and management organizations to discuss how to improve labor-management relations. GAO testified at this hearing on the status of labor-management relations (T-GGD-98-7). In addition, the House oversight subcommittee has monitored the Service's progress in implementing an agreement through its annual oversight hearings. The subcommittee's hearing record for the oversight hearing held in October 1999, asked the Service to update its progress in this area. The Service reported that it continues to discuss issues of concern with employee representatives. through labor summits and local labor-management councils.

    Matter: Congressional oversight committees should monitor the progress of the parties in developing and implementing an agreement to address the problems discussed in this report and should request a progress report from the Postal Service, the four unions, and the three management associations, within 1 year from the date of this report.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Chairman John McHugh, House Subcommittee on the Postal Service, held a hearing in November 1997 with representatives of the Postal Service and labor and management organizations to discuss how to improve labor-management relations. GAO testified at this hearing on the status of labor-management relations (T-GGD-98-7). In addition, Chairman McHugh introduced a postal reform bill (H.R. 22) that, among other things, required an independent study by the National Academy of Public Administration to recommend solutions to improve employee-management relations.

    Matter: If the various parties involved cannot reach a framework agreement within 2 years from the date of this report, Congress may want to reexamine any aspects of the employee and management relationships within the Postal Service that are prescribed in the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 but constitute barriers to reaching a framework agreement during these 2 years.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Postmaster General and the leaders of the unions and management associations participated in a national summit facilitated by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and several subsequent meetings to discuss approaches and initiatives for addressing labor-management problems. The newly established Office of Inspector General for the Postal Service has included labor-management issues in its planned performance audits and has initiated several reviews related to these issues.

    Recommendation: After sufficient time has passed for test units to have implemented agreed-upon changes, the National Leadership Team should arrange for an independent evaluation to determine: (1) the extent to which units have achieved the objectives in the framework agreement; (2) the impact on employee and customer satisfaction; (3) any additional changes in policies, contracts, or systems needed for success; and (4) whether and how best to make similar changes in work units throughout the Postal Service.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service: National Leadership Team

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Postal Service began to use the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to help facilitate national and local labor agreements and to learn new negotiation techniques to reduce the use of binding arbitration. The status of these efforts is updated in another report (GGD-98-1, October 1997).

    Recommendation: To help ensure that agreements are reached in a timely manner, the National Leadership Team should consider arranging for outside advice and assistance to: (1) facilitate the development of agreements at the national and performance cluster levels; and (2) learn new techniques for reaching agreement and resolving differences through negotiation rather than resorting to binding arbitration. The assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service might be considered, as well as the expertise and experience of successful practitioners of constructive negotiation in the private industrial sector.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service: National Leadership Team

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: GAO issued a report on the status of postal initiatives to improve labor-management relations (GGD-98-1). This report stated that the results of the crew chief pilot were mixed in part due to differences in approaches by the affected parties. Another GAO report issued in April 1998 (GGD-98-73) indicated that the Postal Service has had mixed results in resolving its disagreements with the labor union representing city carriers over the implementation of automated sorting of letters to the carrier delivery level.

    Recommendation: To accelerate and demonstrate positive change across the organization, the National Leadership Team, working with management and union counterparts in area offices, should identify pilot sites (performance clusters, including some with the worst problems, such as Chicago and some of the districts visited) where management and union officials are willing to implement and evaluate (using employee opinion, Customer Satisfaction Index, and External First-Class Measurement System data) the above principles and values. The National Leadership Team should give the pilot sites the flexibility needed by authorizing local union and management leadership at test sites to develop approaches for improving working relations, operations, and service quality. For mail processing employees, the approaches should include developing, implementing, and evaluating self-managed work units. This could be done by expanding the crew chief and service captain efforts to include a redefined role for supervisors, new incentives for achieving corporate and unit goals, and effective means of holding employees accountable for results. For delivery employees, the agreements should include greater independence for employees in sorting and delivering mail, incentives for early completion of work, and a system of accountability for meeting delivery schedules. City carriers and management should build a system that incorporates known positive attributes of the rural system, e.g., greater independence and incentives for fast and reliable mail delivery.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service: National Leadership Team

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation has been open for over six years, and no action has been taken to address it. Although the Postal Service has signed individual agreements with some of its major unions related to operational issues and to improve the dispute resolution process, it is unlikely that a long-term framework agreement will be reached involving all unions, management associations, and postal management.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General and the National Leadership Team, which includes the heads of the unions and management associations, should develop and sign a long-term (at least 10 years) framework agreement outlining overall objectives and approaches for demonstrating improvements in the workroom climate of both processing and delivery functions. Specifically, the agreement should provide for the following principles and values: (1) structure the work to assign employees greater responsibility and accountability for results by clearly defining the composition and structure of work teams and the measurements of team success; (2) provide incentives that encourage all employees in work units to share in the tasks necessary for success and that allow work units and employees to be recognized and rewarded primarily on the basis of corporate and unit performance; (3) train employees and hold them accountable for working as members of work teams, focusing on serving the customer, and participating in efforts to continuously improve unit operations; (4) select and train supervisors who can serve as facilitator/counselors and who will have the skills, experience, and interest to treat employees with respect and dignity, positively motivate employees, recognize and reward employees for good work, promote teamwork, and deal effectively with poor performers; and (5) counsel, train, and, if necessary, remove supervisors and employees who demonstrate a lack of commitment to work unit goals, values, and principles.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service: National Leadership Team

  5. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: This recommendation has been open for over six years, and no action has been taken to address it. Although the Postal Service has signed individual agreements with some of its major unions related to operational issues and to improve the dispute resolution process, it is unlikely that a long-term framework agreement will be reached involving all unions, management associations, and postal management.

    Recommendation: The Postmaster General and the National Leadership Team, which includes the heads of the unions and management associations, should develop and sign a long-term (at least 10 years) framework agreement outlining overall objectives and approaches for demonstrating improvements in the workroom climate of both processing and delivery functions. Specifically, the agreement should provide for the following principles and values: (1) structure the work to assign employees greater responsibility and accountability for results by clearly defining the composition and structure of work teams and the measurements of team success; (2) provide incentives that encourage all employees in work units to share in the tasks necessary for success and that allow work units and employees to be recognized and rewarded primarily on the basis of corporate and unit performance; (3) train employees and hold them accountable for working as members of work teams, focusing on serving the customer, and participating in efforts to continuously improve unit operations; (4) select and train supervisors who can serve as facilitator/counselors and who will have the skills, experience, and interest to treat employees with respect and dignity, positively motivate employees, recognize and reward employees for good work, promote teamwork, and deal effectively with poor performers; and (5) counsel, train, and, if necessary, remove supervisors and employees who demonstrate a lack of commitment to work unit goals, values, and principles.

    Agency Affected: United States Postal Service

 

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