USPS rural carrier union demands ‘harsh penalties’ to prevent additional payroll errors

The National Rural Letter Carriers Association filed a national-level grievance this week over the Postal Service’s “repeated failure to pay rural carriers ...

Two separate payroll errors at the Postal Service over the past few months kept thousands of rural letter carriers from getting their full paychecks on time.

Now the union is demanding USPS modernize its payroll system, and that the agency pay “harsh penalties” to compensate rural carriers if these problems persist.

The National Rural Letter Carriers Association filed a national-level grievance this week over the Postal Service’s “repeated failure to pay rural carriers correctly and on time.”

USPS in September experienced a programming issue with its payroll system that caused more than 52,000 rural letter carriers to miss their regular paycheck, or to receive a partial paycheck for the pay period that ended on Sept. 1.

The programming error impacted both career and non-career carriers, but it did not impact all rural carrier employees, USPS officials later told lawmakers.

As a temporary workaround, USPS offered impacted rural carriers a “salary advance,” issued as a money order.

Rural carriers who accepted the money orders would receive 65% of their gross pay — a rough estimate of their typical take-home pay. Carriers would then pay back the salary advance once they received their actual paycheck.

NRLCA President Don Maston, in a video message sent this week to  union members, said “not 100% of the carriers were provided these money orders.”

A USPS spokesperson told Federal News Network in September that 68% of impacted employees, as of Sept. 12, requested and received a salary advance in the form of a no-fee money order.

Maston said it also took USPS “multiple pay periods” to give rural carriers the correct amount of back pay, and that many of those corrections came as adjustments over several pay periods “that were not only confusing to the carriers, but often are impossible to determine if they even were paid correctly.”

The late back pay, he added, made it harder for rural carriers to pay rent, mortgages and other recurring expenses on time.

Maston said USPS also didn’t pay impacted employees their Equipment Maintenance Allowance, a mileage reimbursement for carriers who use their own private vehicles on their delivery routes.

“We were assured it was a one-time thing,” Maston said in a follow-up interview with Federal News Network. “But it was just a matter of time before something else happened, because the payroll system is so outdated.”

Just days before Thanksgiving, USPS announced a timekeeping error would prevent another 2,200 rural carriers from receiving their regular paycheck on time that week. The agency once again offered a salary advance to impacted employees.

But Maston said union officials had decided “enough is enough,” and that rural carriers deserve to be paid correctly and on time.

“The most basic employer requirement is to pay the workers who perform the work,” he said. “To continue to fail at this most basic of employer responsibilities — especially at this time of year, when so many carriers not only work long hours through the holidays, but also prepare for the holidays — is unacceptable.”

USPS spokeswoman Darlene Casey told Federal News Network that “the parties are proceeding to review this dispute, in accordance with our contractually negotiated grievance procedure.”

Casey said USPS has declined further comment “until that process is completed.”

As part of the national-level grievance, Maston said the union is demanding USPS face “harsh penalties” that would be paid to rural carriers if USPS encounters more problems paying them the correct amount on time.

“If they continue to harm carriers by not paying them correctly and on time, then there needs to be a monetary penalty for each instance that occurs,” he said.

Maston said the penalties would also encourage USPS to modernize its legacy payroll system.

“That would be the way to incentivize them. If they need to spend money to update the equipment or the computer system. That money would be better served to do that, as opposed to leave [the payroll system] in place and spend the money to pay the carriers for being harmed,” he said. “It’s a penalty if you want to look at it that way. But ultimately, getting paid shouldn’t be an issue — certainly not this often, and not in these larger numbers.”

As far as the next steps, the union will set up meetings with USPS to discuss a remedy to the grievance.

If USPS and NRLCA can’t reach a resolution both parties are satisfied with, a third-party arbitrator will hear the case and issue a remedy.

“That would be the final play. But in the interim, we’ll be scheduled for meetings and try to get some kind of resolve that’s satisfactory to the union,” Maston said.

While Maston said the USPS payroll error in September was the largest error of its kind he’s ever seen, he said that rural carriers encounter pay issues every pay period.

“The fact is there are multiple carriers who are not correctly paid every pay period – it is just not in the large numbers we have seen lately,” he said. “But I assure you, if it is you who does not get a paycheck, it’s a big deal.”

Since the first payroll issue in September, several rural carriers waiting on their back pay contacted their state Labor Departments. Now the federal Labor Department is looking into the issue.

A Labor Department spokesperson told Federal News Network in October that its Wage and Hour Division “can confirm that it has an open investigation into USPS.”

Maston said he hopes USPS decides to modernize its payroll system to avoid additional pay issues for rural carriers and the rest of the USPS workforce.

“There has been some discussion that they are looking at investing in upgrading the system, or outright replacing it with something that’s more compatible with today’s environment. But there have been promises made before that didn’t actually work out the way that I thought they would, so we’ll see on that one,” he said.

Maston said rural carrier pay issues have also made it harder for USPS during its year-end holiday peak season.

“All of the parcels are hitting all the carriers heavily, and we have a staffing shortage. And this is directly related to, in my belief, the pay not being adequate for some of the different categories we have in our ranks,” Maston said.

USPS in May rolled out a new pay system for rural carriers. Under the Rural Route Evaluated Compensation System (RRECS),about two-thirds of rural carriers have seen pay cuts.

A heavy workload spread across fewer employees, he added, has led to rural carriers delivering packages late into the night.

“We have carriers that are out there entirely too late at night. We’ve been having discussions with postal headquarters about these issues where carriers are out at 10 [pm] 11[pm], 12 [am] delivering parcels. It’s just really not a safe way to be conducting business,” Maston said.

Maston said NRCLA will push for “substantial increases in salary” during upcoming contracting negotiations. He said higher pay would help USPS recruit and retain employees.

“As they prepare for the holidays, it’s just extra difficult times for our members, and we’re trying to do everything we can to make their lives better,” he said.

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