SHORT STAFFING AND STRESS

by Roscoe Woods, Jr., Executive Vice President, 480-481 Area Local, APWU (Michigan) - September, 2007

How much more can we give? Is it time to say enough is enough?

We all complain about staffing. Not enough clerks to go around. Not enough hours in the day to get all our work done. Interesting topic as we roll through prime vacation time in every office of this Local.

Almost every office is running at its minimum complement. We learned one office was actually 4 clerks below complement.

This is due to the perpetual excessing and the elimination (reversion) of vacant bids in this District. As a matter of fact, quite a few offices are running below complement due to the withholding of residual vacancies as a result of all the excessing.

Oxford and Wixom, for example, have full time vacancies held up due to the excessing in this District. Imagine the impact on an office with so few clerks. I have mentioned it to the District many times, and while they claim to be sensitive to the issue, they have not taken any steps to work with us to find a solution to the problem. The reality is that these offices have to work short-staffed, working mandatory overtime, and that is not fair to those tired clerks at all.

Every office we represent is forced to do all of the work in that office with the least amount of people. This is a problem created by the Postal Service and it is a problem that is endured by the members of our bargaining units. Our sweat is reduced to dollars, management wants to save dollars, and they count on our sweat to do it.

The stress created by this type of "Do more with less" philosophy is palpable. I see it in our members' eyes. I feel it in the tension of the office as our people do more and more with less. I see it in the customers' eyes as they glance to and fro at the empty spaces at the counter line.

The sad truth is your Postmaster no longer controls the staffing in the office. Offices across this District are being micro-managed by number crunchers hundreds of miles away. All the talk when we were growing up about how computers would simplify our lives; they have actually complicated our lives by giving people miles away the ability to break us all down to numbers.

Unfortunately, the Local Union has to deal with local managers who are controlled from afar. The freedom of a Postmaster to add to staffing that is so obviously needed no longer exists, and we are left with five people to do the work of seven or eight.

We are employees move the mail in spite of the short staffing. It appears that our success and our dedication has become our biggest weakness. Without even realizing it, we do more and more as staffing keeps being reduced.

You work harder and you put more stress on your aging body and until you feel all the effects of that overworking, you never realize that you are pushing yourself way too hard.

As staffing gets cut, we need to do our own job, not the job of 2 or 3 people. Do your job and your job only.

We need to quit complaining that our co-workers are lazy when most likely they are just tired and, after all, the complaints make us look petty. We need to quit complaining to management that we do not have the people or staffing to get the job done. We need to do the single job we have bid on, that is your job and only your job. If we just do our assigned duties and no more, management will figure the rest out.

Over the long term, killing yourself doing two jobs will take a heavy toll on your health, your well being, and your families. How hard are you pushing yourself? Can you maintain the pace you have set for the next 30 years? Should you have to? At what point are you giving more of yourself than you have to?

Remember, besides this being a job, it is a career. Career means a long term commitment both from you to the employer and from the employer to you. The Union through collective bargaining has secured your job for you; you need to secure your future. You do this by setting an even and sustainable pace when you are working. Do not let the employer take advantage of you by short staffing your office or section and then expecting you to pick up the slack.

SOME DO'S AND A FEW DONT'S

Do: Give the Post Office a fair day's work for your wage. Each Full Time Regular has an eight hour schedule, so work steadily for eight hours.

Do: Make sure you work in a safe and diligent manner. On the job injuries can have a detrimental effect on your career. You cannot retire if you are dead and this job is not supposed to kill you, nor is it supposed to cripple you. You may even be denied a transfer or promotion because of a job related injury.

Do: The work of one person. Do not do ten hours of work in eight. Do not do twelve hours of work in ten.

Do not: skip your lunch to go home a mere 30 minutes to an hour early. Your lunch is a rest period that after six hours of work is required by law. Don't give this time back to the employer. After awhile they will cut staffing or rework the bids because all those thirty and sixty minute givebacks do add up.

Do not: work through your breaks to get out a mere ten or fifteen minutes early. Your break was negotiated for you by this Union. It is a huge giveback to the employer if you allow yourself to be convinced you do not need your break. The human body needs to rest throughout the day. These breaks are important to your overall health and well being; we secured them for you, so take them and use them.

Do not: cut corners where safety is concerned just to get the mail out. If you cannot do the job safely in a timely manner, ask your supervisor for help. If they give you a hard time and tell you to pick up the pace, do not argue, do not get into a confrontation. Do the best you can and make sure you ask for a Steward. Being put in a position of having to work at a frantic pace due to understaffing is not acceptable. Cutting corners and working at a pace so fast you get hurt will not help you make it to retirement.

Do not: allow management to do your work. This is commonplace in smaller offices. If as a result of short-staffing management is doing our work then we need to know so we can file a grievance.

Do not: feel guilty that you cannot move as fast as you did 20 years ago.Do not think that you have to move as fast as you did 20 years ago.

Do not: buy into the B.S. that you are somehow less an employee because you happen to have worked here for 30 years. All the age and experience you have is perhaps the Postal Service's most valuable asset.

Management controls the staffing and they expect us to work harder and harder to cover the cuts they make. It is as if the job security we have is being used against us. If we allow management to push us harder and harder and we continue to break our backs to get the job done with less and less people, we will all end up broken down and unable to enjoy the retirement that awaits us all.

We owe it to our families, our coworkers and ourselves to be safe and steady and diligent in what work we do when we are on the clock. We owe the employer nothing more than a fair day's work for a fair day's pay.