King Solomon, of Old Testament fame, was one of the first arbitrators whose work we can study. As king, he had the last word, which is why it is good to be king. How wise was he? He was so wise that…
In one instance, two women came before him, each claiming to be the mother of a small child. Since he had no way of knowing who was telling the truth, he ordered that the child be split in two. Then each could have half of the boy.
One said OK. The other said no, spare the baby, let her have it!
So the king let the nice lady have the baby, figuring she was the true mother who wanted the best for the child. He set a high standard for future judges.
The recent contract arbitration between the U.S. Postal Service and the National Association of Letter Carriers has some Solomon-like features.
The Postal Service wants to downsize and reduce its costs. It also wants to set up its own health plan outside of the governmentwide Federal Employees Health Benefit Program.
The letter carriers’ union wanted pay raises and job security.
Both sides got what they wanted, up to a point.
The NALC got modest pay raises: 1 percent in November, 2013; 1.5 percent in 2014 and 1 percent in 2015. There will also be 7 percent cost-of-living adjustments with the 2013 COLA deferred until next year. COLAs do not count as part of the high-three annuity calculation for retirement computation purposes. Starting salaries will be lowered for new hires, but the union won continued no-layoff language. The USPS has been trying, successfully, to downsize. More than 26,000 workers took buyouts or early retirement offers last year and a number of facilities have been closed and or consolidated.
Its two largest groups of workers — letter carriers and clerks — are represented by the NALC and the American Postal Workers Union. Unlike most federal unions, the workers of the NALC and APWU are actually dues-paying union members. The unions also represent the largest group of civil servants who have, in some cases, almost daily contact with the public.
The USPS got a major break from the arbitration decision in its current and future health-plan costs. Now it pays about 80 percent of all postal employees’ (but not retirees) health premiums. The USPS’ share will drop to 78 percent next year, decreasing until it is 76 percent in 2016. Given the rising costs of health care (and premiums), that is a major win for the service. In the rest of government, the split is generally 70/30 with the government paying the lion’s share of the premium. Also, starting pay for city letter carriers (currently $44,292) will drop to $34,752 for those hired after Jan. 13, 2013.
A former member of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service who is familiar with the Postal Service said, “the arbitrators really sliced and diced this one in the best sort of way.” He gave high marks to Bruce Simon who represented the NALC, Robert Dufer from the Postal Service and independent chair Shyam Das for a “Solomon-like compromise.”
Obama inaugural address sets stage for policy debates President Obama has prepared an inaugural address that broadly lays out his vision for the country’s future, setting the stage for looming debates over taxes, guns, and immigration. White House advisers see the inaugural speech as the opening opportunity for the President to discuss his second-term agenda, but in broad terms. The next major opportunity will be at the State of the Union address Feb. 12, when aides say Obama will discuss specific policy proposals.