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It Isn’t Worth Your Job

by Mo Merow,

National Business Agent

Let me begin this article with saying that the U. S. Postal Service has some of the finest, most dedicated Sales and Service Associates manning the windows of our Post Offices. They work under incredibly stressful conditions, where staffing is deplorable and customers often wait in lines that go out the door. My hat is off to those on the front line that represent the clerks to the American public. This article is not about the many, it’s about the few.

As a Business Agent tasked with meeting on grievances appealed to arbitration, I am seeing more and more removal cases for SSAs that never had to be. They are more often than not cases that I cannot go forward with. It has nothing to do with my ego or my win/loss ratio in arbitration. It has to do with whether or not the Postal Service can prove they had just cause to remove the SSA. I give each case every bit of my attention, reading every page before I make my decision to close the case. I am finding one particular scenario disturbing in many ways, mainly because it is happening over and over again and I can do nothing to prevail for the SSA in arbitration. The scenario goes like this:

The Postal Service keeps a close watch on the funds in each small Post Office and every station or branch in the larger Post Offices. The unit accountability is audited on a regular basis and the information is monitored. When an office or station is out of tolerance (usually short) in the unit accountability more than twice in a row, the Office of the Inspector General is notified. The Inspectors than visit that office, in an undercover capacity to determine if there is a problem with any of the SSAs who handle the funds. They go to each window and normally ask to buy a stamp or a book of stamps. They observe the clerk who is waiting on them to determine if that clerk scans the products they are handing to them. If the scan does not take place, the SSA is targeted as a person of interest. There are several different inspectors who will visit the office over a period of time to determine if there is one or many person(s) of interest that they need to watch. Once they gather that information, they set up cameras in an effort to prove their person of interest is not handling the funds properly.

With the cameras in place the film starts rolling. The person who is not scanning the products is normally not ringing up the sale either. They are ringing up a “no sale” to open the drawer and placing the funds that they collect from the customer into the drawer. At the end of the day, all things being equal, if the SSA did not scan the product, took the cash from the customer and put it into the drawer and did nothing more, the drawer would be over. The POS would tell the clerk how much money to deposit, less their bank of $100.00 still in the drawer. In actuality the drawer would still have the $100.00 plus the money that the SSA took in when they did not ring up the sale.

The POS has a Retail Data Mart (RDM) that records every second an SSA is logged onto the system. Each time the SSA touches the screen or keys on their computer, it is recorded. The OIG now has a camera on the SSA which shows the date and time. They can go into the RDM and compare what they see on the video with what is recorded on the POS. It’s as simple as that. Many times the video also shows the SSA throwing the “no sale” receipt into the trash. The OIG later retrieves that receipt from the trash and they match it up with what is recorded on the RDM.

Now for the final blow. When the OIG believes they have enough information and evidence, they take the SSA off the window and audit their drawer. By this time, they have the SSA on camera not scanning the stamps, not giving the customer a receipt and not ringing up the sale over and over again. At this point, the SSA should be over in their drawer at least the same amount as those scenarios the camera has recorded. If they are not, they are asked for an explanation. After they are interrogated by the OIG (sometimes for several hours) they are then emergency placed pending an investigatory meeting with their supervisor. During the investigatory meeting the SSA is usually asked to explain their actions on the video. Normally they cannot give a logical explanation for their actions and are usually issued a letter of removal, charged with “Mishandling of Postal Funds.” It is not easy for a Union official at any level to prevail in the grievance process with this type of scenario.

I struggled with writing this article, fearing that it would send the wrong message and I would be offending the SSAs who do their job properly, day after day, year after year. The Postal Service will normally take an article written by the Union and use it against us in arbitration. Perhaps they will attempt to do so with this article. However, I sincerely believe that if one person who needs to get this message does so, it was well worth my time and energy to write it. While we all, as advocates, do great things for our membership, there are times we simply cannot pull the rabbit out of the hat and this scenario is one of those times.

Again, I am not talking about everyday mistakes we are all capable of making. Should you, on occasion, not scan a product, you can still record the transaction by ringing it up on the keyboard. If you do make a mistake, immediately let your supervisor know so that there is a record of that incident. It is better to “own up” to your mistake at the time it happens than try to cover it up until a later audit. By that time, you may or may not remember the incident or be able to answers any questions that may come your way.

I encourage each and every SSA to scan any products you sell across the counter, ring up the sales if you cannot scan it, put the money into the drawer and give the customer a receipt. Can you find another job making an average of $22.00 an hour plus benefits? Please do the right thing and look forward to your retirement, not your removal. There is nothing about this issue that is worth losing your job!