A Program For Your Own Protection

By Diane L. Radischat, Seattle APWU

Are managers yelling at you more frequently? Do they talk to you as if you are without worth? Do they demean you in front of others? Do dignity and respect appear as if they are foreign language words to managers? Are today's managers practicing a more aggressive and abusive style toward the worker? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone.

Workplace Abuse

This bullying style of management is not new by any means. It has been around since the beginning of time...It's a tactic meant to wear you down. To make you "submit" to them, to weaken you both mentally and physically. In an organized company such as ours, it is used as a way to attempt to defeat the unions. They go after the union steward more often and with greater aggression than other employees in many cases. They tie the steward up by delaying and denying them time for proper representation of the workers. They engage the stewards in unwarranted confrontations on the workroom floor, a tactic meant to humiliate them in front of their peers. Going even further, they often begin an escalation of unfounded discipline, knowing that somewhere down the road and within the grievance-arbitration system, the discipline will be overturned.

Our grievance system, while not the best, is what it is, a means to an end in resolving the violations of the contract. The system is slow to resolve issues, including discipline. It can take months to years, depending on whether the issue is disciplinary or contractual in nature. Managers know exactly how long it takes to process a grievance from the first step on through a full arbitration hearing. They use it to their every advantage.

A System Wide Problem

The abusive management behavior appears to be pervasive throughout the Postal Service lately. I read in my e-mails and on web sites constantly about managers run amuck. The Postal Service is clearly condoning the patterns of bad behavior expressed by these managers. In some cases, I would venture to say that it is encouraged. Often like a "tag team" on their part, making it even more difficult for an employee to address the behavior being directed toward them.

I have come to believe that wearing the employee down is the goal. The Postal Service seems bent on the theory that what is wrong with the company is the rank and file employee. Moreover, some managers seem to believe it is the lowest level employee who is most responsible for the ills of the company. Their acts of aggressive behavior mean to "fix" these terrible employees and save the company are obviously misguided. The Postal Service is a breeding ground for employees promoted to supervision that clearly should not be in such a position. All one has to do to become a manager these days is to be employed for more than one year and make application. Moreover, they want to go further than that by hiring managers right from the street who know even less about our system.

Seattle's New Breed

In Seattle, there are several managers of this "new breed" that you will probably recognize. They exhibit the "new" behavior tactics that are becoming more and more common. They could care less that we have a contract since they are more than aware of how long it takes a grievance to process. In fact, being in deliberate violation seems to be "fun" to several of them. Bringing their abusive manner to their attention just has them laughing it off and saying "file a grievance," knowing it is harmless to them. What is heard with more and more regularity is "I am going to do as I please and you can grieve it all you want." They know they act with impunity practically, because by the time the procedure catches up with them, they are long gone and far too often promoted further up the chain. Their promotions reinforce the behavior patterns since holding them responsible simply does not happen.

Upper levels of management try to make the unions believe that they "discipline" their managers. Rest assured it is not for their bad and inappropriate behavior toward the employees. It is generally because they did not meet some "contrived" goal, or that a subjective "score" was not acceptable once again. They are "disciplined" when overtime caused directly by mail volume throws the reports out of whack. Isn't that a crock? Managers always have somewhere to take "their" problems and that is generally by abusing the next in line, us.

A Common Thread

What many of these managers have in common is a military background. Some of them were "officers" over a lifetime career and others just soldiers over time. They have the mistaken notion that they are still in the military and that every employee is another grunt for them to "order" about. They "bark" orders at employees daily as if they are in a "drill" and expect them to "jump" when they yell. They throw out "direct orders" as if they are handing out candy on Halloween, and forbid employees to question anything they tell them to do. In fact, questioning a manager these days often leads to an "investigative" interview for "possible" discipline more than anything else does. When dealt with by a steward representing the employee, they lie repeatedly as if it has been part of their training. The use of threat and intimidation is the sanctioned modus operandi in the Seattle District. Employees are fearful of looking cross-eyed at some of these managers for fear of retaliation. Instilling fear is a goal for these managers.

No one knows their job better than the employees who move the mail day after day, year after year. Yet, we are constantly subjected to working for more and more managers who exhibit greater levels of aggressive and abusive behavior than ever before. Often we are working for managers who put in the "minimum" amount of time on the clock before moving into management. Many of these supervisors were the poorest of productive employees while in the craft, and have gone on to become the worst of the worst as supervisors. When given the smallest amount of authority or power, they run rampant in negative behavior. Without some measure of correction, this problem is only going to escalate. So what do we do?

Speak Up, Speak Out and Fight Back

We stand up, together and fight back. The IPWU is beginning a program to do just that, called The Abusive Supervisor Watch Report. It begins with the employees coming together as one voice. The form you find printed in this current issue of the paper is going to be everywhere in your workplace. This form is an Abusive Supervisor Incident Worksheet. Clip it out and duplicate it if need be.

Fill it out and turn it in to your steward or send it to the union office immediately. This is not meant to circumvent the grievance procedure; where there is a violation, a grievance will be filed. What this program is meant to do is go beyond the normal process. We are going to use every avenue available to us to stop what is going on. The offending manager will be reported immediately to the EXPOSE Program through the National Office, which will work closely with Executive Vice President Cliff Guffey, the officer in charge. We will engage our representatives in Congress. We will contact the Department of Labor. We will engage the legal system. We will leave no stone unturned. This behavior must stop. We have the right to a workplace free of abuse. We have the right to dignity and respect in our workplace.

Remember, your union is only as strong as YOU make it. When we stand as one voice, we can and will prevail. Do not let YOURSELVES down!