Several thousand Postal Service rural carriers say they’re in favor of decertifying their union, after USPS implemented a new pay system that led to significant pay cuts for two-thirds of the rural carrier workforce.
Rural carriers have until the end of the calendar year to gather signatures from nearly a third of the total rural carrier workforce, but individuals leading the project said they have already collected about 20% of the necessary signatures.
Leaders behind the effort say their current union, the National Rural Letter Carriers Association (NRLCA), has done little to prevent the Rural Route Evaluated Compensation System (RRECS) from going into effect in May, or communicating its rollout to members.
Jonathan Chandler, a rural carrier in Lexington, North Carolina, and a dues-paying NRLCA member for 16 years, said that, as of Aug. 9, he’s collected 7,423 signatures. Chander runs a website, DecertifyNRLCA.com, outlining the steps rural carriers must take to sign the petition.
Chandler and his colleagues say they will need 33,900 signatures by the end of the year — 30% of the total rural carrier workforce — for the National Labor Relations Board to hold an election and let rural carriers vote on whether to stay in or leave the union.
“If there is ever a time to make a change for the better of our union, it’s now or never,” Chandler said. “Stand back and do nothing, and watch NRLCA take our dues and do nothing, or sign the petition.”
Jaimie King, a rural carrier in Palm Bay, Florida who’s worked for USPS for 13 years, said rural carriers who sign the petition at this point are expressing an interest in holding a vote to decertify the NRLCA.
“Once we get the one-third [of members’ signatures], it doesn’t do anything, as far as changing the union. It just gives us the option to go to the NLRB and say, ‘One-third of the workforce is interested in decertifying the union. Can we hold a ballot?’” King said.
Chandler said rural carriers need to cross the 33,900-signature threshold by Dec. 28, 2023, in order to give the NLRB enough time to verify the signatures and mail ballots.
He added that NRLCA’s labor contract expires in May 2024, and that bargaining unit employees can only decertify the union when the contract is up for renewal.
Chandler said all rural carriers can sign, even if they are non-dues-paying members. Rural carrier assistants and part-time flexible employees are also eligible to sign the petition.
Two-thirds of USPS rural carriers saw significant pay cuts this spring, when USPS rolled out a new pay system that’s been in the works for more than a decade.
Unlike city letter carriers and city carrier assistants, rural carriers work under an evaluated pay system, and most mail routes get an annual evaluation based on how long it takes to complete and how much mail it receives.
Chandler said rural carriers are looking to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the union that represents United Parcel Service employees. UPS employees were recently on the verge of striking, but management reached a new labor agreement with the union in July.
“We have all eyes set on Teamsters,” Chandler said.
A spokesperson for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said the union is not in talks with rural carriers.
King said rural carriers behind the decertification push aren’t interested in joining the National Association of Letter Carriers, which represents city carriers.
“Just talking to some of the city carriers, it doesn’t seem as if we may be gaining a better union, so we may end up with some of the same kind of problems and some of the same issues,” King said.
King said that if rural carriers don’t reach an agreement to join another union by the time the NLRB distributes ballots, carriers will opt to remain as part of NRLCA.
“The ultimate goal is, we don’t want to decertify the union, just to be decertified and be without a union,” King said.
RRECS is the product of arbitration between USPS and the NRLCA more than a decade ago after both parties failed to agree on how to design a new pay system on their own for rural carriers.
Chandler said he lost $12,000 in yearly wages under RRECS, and that many of his fellow coworkers have had to get part-time jobs, in addition to delivering mail, just to make ends meet.
“A few have got foreclosure notices and vehicles repossessed,” Chandler said.
King said he was making about $72,000 a year prior to RRECS. Under the new system, he faces a $15,000 annual pay cut while delivering on the same route.
Kim Farmer, another rural carrier in Palm Bay, said she’s now working six days a week under RRECS to earn the same amount of pay she received when she was working five days a week under the previous pay system.
“The union, they don’t really stand up for you,” Farmer said. “I do understand the post office does have to run, but we’re paying for the union to do something.
Rural carriers report that they have not received proper training on how to ensure they are logging their work correctly on handheld scanners, or how those scans translate into their take-home pay.
Most carriers compensated under RRECS will now input on average between 12 and 20 additional scans each day on a handheld scanner that reads and collects barcode data.
“They’re not transparent with the numbers, so we’re not able to argue whether the numbers are correct,” King said. “They know that for the last year, carriers weren’t getting trained properly to do the scans. We were asking questions on how scans were working, and we weren’t getting answers for it.”
NRLCA earlier this year negotiated with USPS to delay the rollout of RRECS. But King said the union allowed RRECS to go into effect without addressing carriers’ concerns about training and how the system would impact their pay.
“They understood that the data was not correct before they implemented it, and they decided to implement it regardless. I don’t know how much power the union had to be able to stop that,” King said. “We wish we had a union that we able to at least say, ‘You can’t implement this, at least until everything is fully functional.”
NRLCA National President Don Maston said in an interview that the union had “gone to extreme measures,” and delayed the rollout of the RRECS several times to train and educate members on the new system.
USPS press representatives declined to comment.
Aside from RRECS, Chandler said rural carriers in several states have different issues with the union.
He said NRLCA district stewards regularly meet with USPS management, but have “zero communication” with rural carriers who filed grievances against the agency.
“We try to contact our reps via phone call and email with no answer. Several simple grievances that should have been won hands down are handed to management with a white flag in submission. Time and time again they side with management even when the mail carrier shows the steward in black-and-white in the contract,” Chandler said. “It’s like taxation without representation.”
Chandler said he previously served as an NRLCA local steward, but resigned after a year, “when I noticed we got minimal support from our area and district reps.”
King said the RRECS rollout “hit the hardest,” and was a breaking point for some carriers, but added that he and other carriers have other complaints with the union.
“It’s progressively getting a little bit worse and a little bit worse. It’s kind of been the last straw, where everybody took huge pay cuts, and everyone’s tired of it, at this point,” King said.
Rural carriers behind the decertification movement are distributing physical cards to coworkers to collect signatures. King said he expects the grassroots effort will gather more momentum once more rural carriers become aware of the decertification effort.
“Getting all the offices to know that we’re doing this is a task,” he said.