When I was involved in my Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), our branch president was a feisty, arrogant guy. I’ll call him Mike Money. He got a lot of monetary settlements for us letter carriers, so the alias fits.
But when Mike went after postal management, it often got personal. He wasn’t content to kick their asses and empty their pockets with a grievance, without also putting in a snide remark denigrating their characters or condemning their souls. Righteous indignation pumped through our president’s veins.
The postmaster probably had enough of him, so he transferred to a new post office. Soon a postmaster was brought down from some office in Oregon to be our temporary Officer-In-Charge (OIC). He would be our babysitter until the Postal Service could find a new postmaster for us. His name was Buddy, but don’t be fooled. He was nobody’s buddy.
OIC Buddy was a yellow-dog hater of unions. He immediately targeted Mike for harassment, and Mike, with all his righteous indignation, was up for the war. The two went back and forth, with Mike grieving just about every contractual violation he could find or imagine, and with Buddy investigating Mike and imposing discipline for the slightest infractions.
Both sides fought dirty. Perhaps Buddy got away with this in his office in Oregon, but when he tangled with Mike Money, he met his match.
Mike was a keen observer of human behavior, and he noticed that Buddy had an odd habit. Every afternoon at precisely 1:00, Buddy locked the door of the postmaster’s office, with strict instructions that he was not to be disturbed until 2:00. And if anybody knocked on his door, he would not open it. Nor would he answer his phone. Any calls would be put on hold for up to a whole hour.
Mike was curious. Some of the clerks worked closely with the OIC, so he asked them what the hell was going on in that office every day, during the forbidden hour. The answer was most peculiar. It seems Buddy was an avid fan of the soap opera, General Hospital. In fact, he was such a hardcore fan that he couldn’t bear to miss a single episode. So he kept a TV in the office, and faithfully watched the show every day at its scheduled time, and allowed no interruptions.
It seemed he was so crazily obsessed that it didn’t matter what was going on in the post office. Hell, the building could be burning down, and that wouldn’t be enough to unglue Buddy from the television screen.
Mike filed this information away in his brain on the chance that it could be useful one day. Meanwhile, he and OIC Buddy continued their ongoing war. And Buddy was becoming more and more relentless in his efforts to get Mike fired.
One day in the heat of an argument, Mike insulted Buddy. Theoretically, Union officials and management are on equal footing when discussing a contractual matter. But they are also required to treat each other with dignity and respect. Of course, if there are no witnesses, they can insult away and get away with it. But this time, there were witnesses.
Buddy seized the opportunity. He gathered witness statements, and with this evidence in hand, he fired Mike.
But firing a letter carrier is easier said than done. For one thing, discipline is supposed to be progressive for relatively minor infractions like this. Buddy should have started with a Letter of Warning, which could then progress to suspensions, before eventually firing Mike. Thus, a grievance of the removal would likely get the discipline reduced to a lesser corrective action.
Also, a removal action generally doesn’t take place immediately. The Union is allowed 14 days to file a grievance, and the removal cannot take effect until after the grievance process is exhausted, all the way through its appeals.
So it was business as usual for Mike. He continued to deliver mail and file grievances. And of course, one of the grievances he filed was that of his own removal. His grievance was denied at the local level, as expected, so he appealed it out of office to the district level. There it was denied also, so it was appealed to arbitration.
It takes a few months for an arbitration hearing to be scheduled. In the meantime, a new postmaster was hired to fill the vacancy, and OIC Buddy had to return to his post office in Oregon. This was a relief for Mike, as the new postmaster was easier to get along with. But his livelihood was still on the line. He was still sweating it out, standing at the gallows, awaiting the potential execution of his career.
A hearing was finally scheduled, and the time neared for Mike’s “day in court.” Mike met with the Union’s National Business Agent (NBA), who would be representing him at the arbitration hearing. This is when Mike remembered Buddy’s peculiar addiction to General Hospital.
Mike contacted the Union steward in the town where Buddy served as postmaster, and confirmed that General Hospital started at 1:00 in his town. He then plotted with the NBA to arrange Buddy’s telephone testimony to occur at the exact time this show would be on the air.
The day of reckoning arrived. The two sides met for the hearing, with the Labor Relations representative sitting on one side of the table, and the NBA and Mike sitting on the other side. The arbitrator sat at the head of the table and presided over the meeting.
The Labor Relations rep apparently had no clue about Buddy’s affinity for General Hospital.
A back and forth debate and presentation of evidence occurred, where the NBA surreptitiously prolonged the proceedings, to delay the time of Buddy’s testimony. Finally the hour approached 1:00. The NBA discontinued his cunctation, which allowed Buddy to testify. The Labor Relations rep called the Oregon post office, in order to put Buddy on speakerphone.
A clerk answered and told the rep that Buddy was in a “conference.” She put the phone on hold. The clock ticked. Classical music emanated from the speakerphone as Buddy’s “conference” dragged on and on. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. A half-hour. Then 45 minutes escaped the clock.
At around this point the NBA stopped drumming his fingers and lost his patience. He angrily made a motion to exclude the postmaster’s testimony, while accusing Labor Relations of engaging in an unjust delaying action.
Arbitrators are paid by both sides, and have to be fair to both sides. The arbitrator had given Labor Relations a more than reasonable amount of time already, so the NBA seemed to be making a good point. So he agreed with the NBA and granted the motion. The frustrated Labor Relations rep had to hang up the phone.
Then something almost unprecedented occurred. Usually it takes an arbitrator about four to six weeks to issue a decision. But this arbitrator was so annoyed about being on hold for so long, listening to elevator music, that he issued a rare, bench decision. He opined that since Buddy was not testifying, and since his testimony was critical to the success of Labor Relations’ case, he had no choice but to side with the Union.
And with that, the removal action was completely rescinded, with no lesser form of discipline to be imposed in its place.
Mike Money won the entire case, on the spot. His soap opera drama with Buddy came to a sudden, dramatic end, and all thanks to another soap opera drama. The shenanigans of Luke, Laura, and the rest of the dysfunctional gang, at General Hospital.