News

Arbitrator rules in favor of Milford postal workers

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

By KATHY CLEVELAND

Staff Writer

MILFORD – Post office mail carriers were the victims of “repeated and flagrant violations” of their contracts over six years, according to an arbitrator who awarded eight Milford letter carriers $1,500 each in punitive damages and more in compensatory damages.

The total judgment amounted to $25,500, according to Dan Yianakopolos, the president for Branch 44 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, which includes the Milford Post Office.

The employees’ union had filed a class action grievance against the U.S. Postal Service in October after the postal service’s inspector general found that managers in Milford had manipulated time sheets, causing some workers to be underpaid.

“Management’s violations were so egregious over a period of many years that punitive damages were awarded to deter the service from further clock ring violations,” arbitrator Sherrie Rose Talmadge wrote in the Dec. 2 decision.

The arbitrator also decided that two letter carriers, Bob West and Brian McGaughey, should be converted from part-time to full-time, because “management’s contractual violations” had prevented them from qualifying for full-time positions.

According to facts agreed upon by both sides in the arbitrator’s report, between 2003 and 2008 Milford Post Office Supervisor Steve Colen “repeatedly changed the beginning and end time of all the city carriers,” and for those who were out after 5 p.m., he altered the time clock to reflect that they had returned to the office prior to 5 p.m. “to avoid showing up on the after-5 p.m. report.” City route carriers are post office employees who work on foot, as opposed to rural carriers who use vehicles.

Colen also “deleted one day of overtime to avoid paying the penalties for overtime pay” and “changed the time of the carriers’ lunch hour (by) manually extending the lunch hour to avoid overtime payments,” according to the agreed-upon facts in the report.

Colen also put carriers in for training time when they were actually working, which “negatively affected the evaluation of the routes.”

In total, wrote Talmadge, Colen and Postmaster (Dean) Mottard made “805 changes in carriers’ pay and thousands of changes and modifications in clock ring codes” over the six-year period.

Mottard has retired from the Milford Post Office and the temporary officer in charge, Peter Koutroubas, did not return a call for comment.

Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service’s Northern New England District, said the post office intends to comply fully with the decision, and Milford employees should receive their pay adjustment in January.

He said he did not know if the part-time employees have been moved up to full time yet.

At the arbitration hearing, the Postal Service did not dispute the incidents occurred, but argued that punitive damages were not warranted.

The U.S. Postal Service Inspector General’s office investigated the post offices in Milford and Manchester at the request of U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, who was contacted by the carriers’ union. In October, the postal service’s inspector general found that mangers in Milford and in the Manchester South Station and Manchester West Station had manipulated time sheets, causing some employees to be underpaid.

The arbitrator was then called on to decide in the matter between the United States Postal Service and the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO, and a hearing was held in Nashua on Oct. 6. The arbitration decision is final, said Rizzo.

In an article in the Branch 44 newsletter, Yianakopolos says that managers were not disciplined and are still supervising the employees whose time clocks were altered, and he called the situation “a disgrace.”

Postal employees take an oath not to criticize the post office, he said, but since he is retired, he does not have to abide by the oath.

Yianakopolos said his union has also asked for investigations of the Somersworth and Dover post offices.

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