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By Dan Sullivan

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An Administrative Law Judge has ruled the Postal Service violated the Rehabilitation  Act of 1973 when it required a Kalamazoo postal worker to provide medical documentation certifying she was no threat to herself or others before she was allowed to return to work after a one-day FMLA absence.

Linda Miller, a mail processor at the Kalamazoo P&DC had called in sick on May 31, 2002 because of an FMLA approved depression and anxiety disorder condition.   The attendance boss  taking the call-in informed Miller she was not allowed back to work without medical documentation certifying she was no threat to herself or others.

The Postal Service rejected the first medical documentation Miller's doctor provided on June 3, claiming it failed to state she posed no threat to the workplace.  That medical documentation  stated Miller "has never been a threat to herself or others in the past and that is certainly not suggested in the FMLA forms."

Miller was eventually allowed to return to work on June 10, after her doctor provided further medical certification to satisfy the Postal Service's demands.

In his November 18, 2003 decision, Judge Young Kim decided postal officials had no objective evidence from which to form a "reasonable belief" that Miller  may have posed a direct threat to herself or others simply because she had an impairment and called in sick.

The Rehabilitation Act  requires work-related  medical certification to be "job related and consistent with business necessity."   Judge Kim ruled the Postal Service fell far short of meeting that standard in the Miller case.

"The only information the attendance monitor had at the time of the medical inquiry was that the Complainant was suffering from depression and anxiety and that her condition was covered by FMLA,"   Judge Kim wrote in his Summary Judgment in favor of Miller.  

"The attendance monitor did not have any objective evidence, other than the diagnosis itself, from which to draw an inference that the Complainant may pose a threat to herself or to others.  In fact, the attendance monitor was merely following the Agency's leave policy which required that when an employee is returning to duty after an absence for a mental condition, she must submit a physician's certification that she is fit for duties without hazard to herself or to others.  As such, requiring the Complainant to submit medical certification before being able to return to work was in violation of the Act because the Agency did not have a reasonable belief that she posed a direct threat to herself or to others due to her mental impairment."

A hearing is set for December 5, 2003 to discuss what the recommended award should be in the case.

Linda K. Miller v. John Potter
EEOC No. 230-2003-04087X
Agency No. 1-J-487-0024-02

see other articles by Dan Sullivan


Dues payers will be singing the blues when presidents meet in St. Louis

By Dan Sullivan
Southwest Michigan Area Local

In less than two weeks, APWU presidents will gather in St. Louis for another quarterly exercise in futility called the National Presidents' Conference. State and local presidents will fly in from all across the country for a few days of politics and hand-wringing.

APWU President Bill Burrus will sweep down from his sanctuary on Mt. Olympus and remind the local and state politicians that we must all work together to save our jobs and that hard times are ahead. He will urge greater cooperation between all levels of the union. If things go as they have in the past, he will speak and the presidents will listen.

At the last National Presidents' Conference, Bureaucrat Bill successfully sold his contract extension to local and state leaders, who then went back home and sold the sell-out agreement to their members. Burrus promised the agreement would buy us time, though the question ‘time for what?' was never answered.

This time with President Bush's postal commission ready to hammer postal workers in July, Burrus will probably try to buy more time by unveiling a public relations campaign to keep the presidents busy and distracted from the war postal managers are waging against workers all across the country and the fact that his administration is doing nothing about it.

Though the union's highest governing body last August mandated that his administration publicize and lead the opposition to management's campaign of Postal Attendance Terror, little has been done by the Burrus administration in the intervening 7 months. A few inches of copy in the American Postal Worker magazine has been all the leadership effort national officers have been able to muster.

Meanwhile, workers are getting beat up daily by Postal Attendance Terrorists, who become bolder all the time, attacking the ill and the injured, flouting the Americans with Disabilities Act and refusing to comply with the FMLA law. Employees are being disciplined and harassed daily by the telephone terrorists and national officers remain largely silent about the outrage. Union attorneys, who should have long ago been ordered to court to protect our legal rights, are used for other matters.

But Postal Attendance Terrorism isn't the only reason rank-and-file dues payers will be singing the blues all across the country as their leaders meet in St. Louis next week, hobnobbing with Bureaucrat Bill and other big shots.

Window clerks are being trounced by Mystery Shoppers and management spies working undercover to discipline them for not asking questions like robots from customers purchasing stamps. Not even token resistance to the program has been offered by the Burrus administration.

Management is threatening wholesale job abolishments and excessing at offices all across the country as it prepares to implement its ‘closings and consolidations' plan. The Burrus administration hasn't spoken out against these plans.

Postal taskmasters are implementing ‘speedups' on automated letter sorting machines all across the country, staffing two-persons machines with one employee in violation of long-standing ergonomic agreements and standards. Not a peep has come out of the Burrus administration.

Management is voiding light duty provisions of local agreements, refusing to honor its commitment to find 8 hours work a day for ill and injured employees all across the country.
No outrage has been expressed by the Burrus administration.

The grievance procedure is broken because we can't get grievances to arbitration for years - and sometimes decades - and the Burrus solution is to suspend all arbitration hearings while old grievances that management denied without a fair hearing at steps one and two are once again reviewed by joint labor-management teams.

Discipline is again the weapon of choice by postal managers all across the country as they continue to downsize the Postal Service using management tactics from the 70s.

No wonder workers are singing the blues and wondering what the hell the national union is doing with our dues money?

It's time for local and state presidents to turn the National Presidents' Conference into more than a forum for national officers to politic. It's time for more than excuses when we ask why the membership and local officers and stewards are getting knocked from pilla
r to post in Postmaster General John Potter's war against the workers while our national leadership watches from the sidelines.

We don't need national officers holding our coats when we step into the ring. We need them rolling up their sleeves and joining the fight.

Local and state presidents and stewards know we're in a war with management. They know that local postal managers are carrying out policy sent down from the boardrooms at L'Enfant Plaza in Washington. The Postal Service has a national plan. Where's ours?

There are many good and courageous local and state presidents in the union, men and women like Jim Alexander, John Dirzuis, Gary Vanhoogstraten, Mickey Elmore, Lance Coles and others too many to name. Most of them will be in St. Louis. These leaders know the truth. They know the union membership in the field is under attack like no time since this union was formed in 1970.

They also know that individual local and state unions cannot defeat the oppressive policies of Postmaster General John Potter without a commitment from the president and executive board of this union to join the fight.

They know that unless we unite to oppose the oppressive policies of Postmaster General John Potter, we are all lost. Individual efforts at the local level, no matter how heroic, cannot be expected to defeat the full weight and might of the Postal Service.

Those of us on the front lines can only hope that when the National Presidents meet this time they show the political courage to stand up to the union bureaucrats in Washington and demand in one loud voice that our leaders finally assume their responsibility as officers of this union and engage the enemy in Washington, where the attacks across the country are mapped out by John Potter and his postal anti-labor relations managers.

The presidents have heard the voices of their members. They should let President Burrus hear those voices also.


Let's not destroy the world's greatest mail system

note this story appears in the March 3, 2003  Kalamazoo Gazette

by Dan Sullivan

With all that's going on in the world and  the American economy today, it's not surprising that most Americans haven't heard  that the head of the Postal Board of Governors thinks  it's time to scuttle  the nation's  tradition of affordable,  universal mail service. 

  But that's exactly what United States Postal Service Chairman of the Board David Fineman  said in a February 24 Federal Times interview.  According to the Times story, Fineman said it's time to redefine the meaning of universal mail service.

  "‘Can the country afford, and does the country want, delivery to every house six days a week?' Fineman said. ‘There's an economic downturn, and we're running a business here. We've got to react to that.'"

‘Redefining universal service' is the euphemism they'll be using when they speak of privatization and  closing your local post office.  It has less of a threatening ring to it than saying they're planning to cut mail service.

It would be bad enough if the chairman of the board which controls the Postal Service was simply expressing his own private views.  But Fineman is not alone.   Right-wing think tanks like the CATO Institute have long advocated  privatization of the nation's mail system.   They don't like government involvement  in a service they believe the private sector could provide for a  profit, and they don't like the unionized makeup of the Postal Service workforce or the fact that postal workers are allowed to negotiate over wages and working conditions and settle contract disputes in arbitration.

  Fineman's words may come as balm to hard-right ideologues and fast buck operators - who for years have longed to get their mitts on some of the $80 billion a year Postal Service business -  but  they should alarm Americans who depend on the security and inexpensive cost of the U.S. Mail  in running their homes and small businesses and keeping in touch with their loved ones.   

Fineman's call for redefining universal service comes  hot on the heels of  formation of a partisan Republican Presidential Commission on the Postal Service.     The commission was named by President Bush for the purpose of  examining the Postal Service's role in the future.   Given the makeup of the commission - a stacked deck of Republicans, many with an ideological aversion to ‘big government'  -  it's more accurate to describe it as a  stalking horse for privateers  who wish to dismantle universal mail service  to every American and turn mail sorting and delivery over  to profit-making entrepreneurs. 

That would mean an end to the kind of mail service Americans are used to, a mail system that delivers more mail than all the rest of the world combined at the cheapest rates you'll find anywhere.   Instead, under a market-based approach you'd be hard-pressed to find someone willing to deliver your letter across the country for 37 cents or your packages at a reasonable rate to your loved ones or customers if they live in the boondocks or in some of the tougher inner city neighborhoods.

The effects on newspaper and magazine publishers and subscribers would be equally devastating.   The market would determine how much it cost to deliver a magazine or newspaper to your house, not government regulated postal rates.

By itself, the President's privatization commission won't have the authority to replace your friendly letter carrier  with the equivalent of a pizza delivery boy or charge you ‘market-based' postage.    It will take Congressional legislation to deregulate the mail delivery business and turn it over to for-profit businessmen or in other ways erode universal mail service to every American.

Which is what the commission will be calling for in late July, when it's  scheduled to issue its final report.  

The American Postal Workers Union will be opposing any attempts to ‘redefine' universal mail service and any reductions in service to the American people.   Readers should   contact their Senators and people in Congress urging them to continue to support  affordable, 6-day a week  mail service to every American.

Let's not destroy the world's greatest mail system just for the sake of political ideology and profit.


by Dan Sullivan

In a December 13 statement to its employees, the Postal Service denied charges that the recently named presidential postal commission has a pre-ordained agenda to privatize the nation's mail system.

In a story headlined "Misconstrued by the media," postal flacks reported "the presidential commission on USPS isn't charged with privatizing the Postal Service."

The report on USPS News Online says the appointment of the commission "is consistent with — and complementary to — the USPS Transformation Plan," and quotes Peter Fisher, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance, as saying, "Our goal is not to privatize the Postal Service."

Yet the Transformation Plan itself questions long held public assumptions about the need for government sponsored universal mail service and proposes three possible phases of transformation: incremental operational and administrative improvement, moderate legislative reform and finally privatization, or what it euphemistically calls "structural transformation."

The Transformation Plan acknowledges "transformation of a large institution is likely to take place one step at a time. It is logical, therefore, to think of these phases as sequential."

The end result is the same, though: privatization.

The Transformation Plan contains an endorsement of President George W. Bush's Management Agenda for 2002, which it says, "could have been addressed to the Postal Service."

It quotes from the report: "We must have a Government that thinks differently, so we need to recruit talented and imaginative people to public service... We'll establish a meaningful system to measure performance. Create awards for employees who surpass expectations. Tie pay increases to results. With a system of rewards and accountability, we can promote a culture of achievement through the Federal Government."

Bush recently announced plans to transform the federal work force by cutting it in half and privatizing many government services and operations.

The USPS Transformation Plan echoes the president's attack on the federal workforce by stating postal labor problems "can be seen as part of a broader pattern of human capital shortcomings that have eroded mission capabilities across the federal government."

The Transformation Plan envisions pseudo-collective bargaining similar to the "Railway Labor Act," which would deny postal workers the right to go to arbitration when contract talks fail.

The makeup of the president's postal commission is a stacked deck. Its members are overwhelmingly drawn from the corporate and business world. Its appointed ‘labor' representative is the president of an organization of New York prison guards which doesn't belong to the AFL-CIO, who endorsed Republican George Pataki in last year's gubernatorial race. There is no consumer advocate on the commission to represent the interests of the general mailing public.

The commission is a stalking horse for supporters of privatization and certainly will recommend that Congress curtail bargaining rights currently enjoyed by postal workers and at least an incremental form of privatization.

The media is getting it right when it says the postal commission is trying to find ways to privatize the Postal Service. The president's postal commission is really a postal privatization commission regardless of what Potter
call it.

‘Prestigious' or not, PMG Award still looks like chump change
                                    by Dan Sullivan

His co-workers had a good laugh last year when Gary Fournier told them
he was going to track down the Phoenix, AZ postal clerk who had mysteriously
vanished the same day that more than $3 million dollars disappeared from
the registered mail section at the Phoenix General Mail Facility.

The 55-year-old ex-Marine has been with the Postal Service for 18-years,
the last six as a unionized postal police officer in Seattle.

"They all thought I was nuts because I was looking for this guy," Fournier says.

The guy he was looking for was Louis Holley, a 28-year postal employee
with sticky fingers and no great aptitude for crime.

Holley had disappeared June 2 with the contents of six pouches of
registered mail containing cash, checks and postal money orders. Had he
headed south, he could have been out of the country in hours. Instead, he
went north, intending to lay low for a while before crossing into Canada.

That was mistake number one.

Holley wandered around for more than two and-a-half months, eluding
Postal Inspectors and federal, state and local police before finally ending
up in Seattle in early August.

That was mistake number two. He should have never wandered into Gary
Fournier's neck of the woods.

The Postal Inspection Service had put out wanted posters describing Holley and his getaway car, a 1995, black Jeep Cherokee with gold trim. The wanted posters offered up to $50,000 for information leading to his arrest and conviction.

"I was kinda upset that this guy was a 28-year postal employee and he stole all this money from us," says Fournier. "Plus, the reward money looked good."

There had been reports placing Holley in Boise, ID, where he had purchased the Jeep with cold, hard cash. Seattle is about 500 miles northwest of Boise, about an 8 or 9-hour drive. Fournier put one and one together, just like Columbo used to do on TV, and decided to start looking.

"I just kinda felt like he was here. Everyone thought he was out of the country, in Canada," Fournier says, "But I felt he was still here."

So Fournier began prowling motel parking lots in the Seattle area on his own time, checking vehicle identification numbers on black Jeep Cherokees to see if they matched the numbers on Holley's getaway car. He also handed out wanted posters to family and friends and asked them to be on the lookout for Holley.

No wonder his fellow postal cops found Fournier's off-duty obsession hilarious. He was looking for a needle in a haystack.

"I live about 40 miles out of the city. Every day on the way home, I would look for him."

On August 17, stubborness and persistence paid off.

After work that morning, Fournier pulled into a motel parking lot in Lynwood, Wash., looking for the Black Jeep Cherokee with gold trim. And there it was.

Fournier verified the plates on the Jeep were registered to a Ford Escort Holley had purchased in Edmonds, Wash.

Just like Columbo, he had his man.

Fournier parked across the street, called the Postal Inspectors and then
participated in Holley's arrest. More than $1.8 million in cash was found in the Jeep Cherokee. Another $800,000 in checks and money orders was recovered later.

"It was just basic, old-fashioned police work. Just going out and looking," Fournier says modestly.

Holley was convicted of theft last year and is now serving 41 months in prison.

Fournier's story should have had a happy ending here. But since this is also a story about the Postal Service, it doesn't.

Almost a year after capturing Holley, Fournier is still trying to collect the reward money the Postal Inspection Service offered for information leading to Holley's arrest and conviction.

After giving Fournier $5,000 in cash last fall and calling it the Postmaster General's Award, the Postal Service rejected his claim for the $50,000 reward.

At first he was told his application for the reward wasn't processed because he had already received the $5,000 cash award.

Fournier asked for reconsideration of his claim and received a May 1 letter from Deputy Chief Postal Inspector K.W. Newman telling him to forget about getting any more money.

Newman thanked Fournier for his "outstanding efforts" in the Holley case
and reminded him of the $5,000 Postmaster General's Award, which he made
sound as important as a Pulitzer or Nobel prize.

"This prestigious award signifies the importance of your role in this case," Newman wrote.

As for the reward money offered on wanted posters?

"The amount paid for any approved reward claim is dependent on a number
of factors," Newman explained to Fournier. "The fact that you were ‘not on
the clock' when you discovered Holley's vehicle is not a determinative factor
with respect to your eligibility to receive a reward .... It has also been
determined that as a result of your official employment, you had access to
information concerning this investigation before it had been released to the
general public."

So thanks, but tough luck, chump.

Fournier has written to Congressmen, Senators, the Postal Board of
Governors and the Postmaster General himself, Jack Potter, pleading his case
for the reward money. So far, without any luck.

His story has appeared in the Phoenix daily newspaper, the Arizona
Republic, and on the TV news in Seattle.

But with Holley now behind bars, and no great public outcry, postal
bosses have lost interest in the case.

The Postal Service paid out more than $160 million in bonuses to bosses
last year who through hard work and diligence managed to lose more than
$1.5 billion. So maybe postal bureaucrats figure it's squandering money to
pay a reward to someone for actually saving the Postal Service almost $2
million dollars.

Of course there is the small matter of honoring your word. The Postal
Inspection Service did offer up to $50,000 for information leading to the
arrest and conviction of Holley. And Fournier did track him down on his own
time and bring him in along with almost $2 million in stolen money.

That should count for something more than $5,000, by any standard of

Fournier, more disillusioned than bitter, says, "If something like this
ever happens again, I would like to think I will still do the right thing."

Which is more than we can expect from PMG Potter, Chief Postal
Inspector Newman and the rest of the postal bureaucracy.

They can call the Postmaster General's Award prestigious if they want to.
But it still doesn't make a $5,000 payout on a $50,000 reward offer anything
more than chump change.

And it still doesn't make it right.