The USPS missed payroll for more than 45,000 rural postal workers this week due what their union called “an egregious payroll error.”
Workers will instead have the option of effectively taking out a loan via money order. The timing is not the most auspicious as it comes during a push by some rural carriers to decertify their union, which is seen by many workers as not doing enough to protect their interests after more than two-thirds of them took a pay cut determined by an algorithm earlier this year.
Earlier this week, posts started trickling onto USPS message boards indicating some kind of payroll error would result in some carriers not being paid and others being underpaid. Yesterday, the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, the union that represents about 100,000 rural carriers, issued a statement saying “The NRLCA has learned about an egregious payroll error this pay period affecting more than 45,000 rural carriers,” amounting to about half of its members, and that it had negotiated a temporary workaround where workers could get a salary advance by a money order from their post office equal to 65 percent of their gross pay, roughly approximating the net pay carriers get per pay period after taxes and deductions.
The amount of that money order will then be subtracted from their next paycheck which will include the payment missed this week, a USPS spokesperson told Motherboard, and workers can decline the money order.
The workaround poses all sorts of complications. Anyone who is on vacation or out sick will, at the very least, have great difficulty getting their money orders, if they can at all. Money orders can take time to clear with a bank and for anyone with a low balance and automatic payments for things like rent or credit card bills, that delay could lead to an overdraft. And anyone taking the loan is relying on the same USPS departments that screwed up payroll to process all this properly. If various USPS subreddit threads on the issue are any indication, few seem to have faith that the institution that failed to pay them on time will handle this seamlessly.
“The Postal Service identified a programming issue within its payroll system that impacted some rural carriers paychecks to be issued on September 1, 2023,” said USPS spokesperson David Parteinheimer. “We have taken immediate steps to ensure employees will be paid through a salary advance in the form of a no-fee money order. The programming issue has been identified and remediated.”
The snafu comes at a particularly difficult time for rural carriers and the union that represents them. Earlier this year, two-thirds of rural carriers took a significant pay cut without having their work change at all due to the implementation of a new pay evaluation system called the Rural Route Evaluated Compensation System (RRECS) that uses an opaque algorithm to calculate their pay. Many workers are upset with their union, the NRLCA, considering this system was the result of years of negotiation with the USPS. Pay is calculated via the collection of thousands of data points from their handheld digital scanners, and many workers feel they were not adequately trained or prepared on what data points matter for calculating their pay.
Are you a USPS worker impacted by RRECS or involved in the decertification effort? Have you had to take on a second job or gig work? We’d love to hear from you. Email Aaron Gordon at email@example.com.
Jamie King, a rural carrier out of Palm Bay, Florida, took a $15,000 pay cut due to RRECS even though his route is still the same. “I’m back to the same amount of money I made 13 years ago,” he told Motherboard. “You give 13 years to a company and you’d expect you’re not at the same level where I started.”
King called the pay cut the “last straw” of a list of grievances—most prominently the two-tiered pay system that compensates newer workers worse than longer-tenured ones—that catalyzed an effort to decertify the NRLCA and join another union. King, who is helping organize that effort, said they would need to collect 33,000 signatures in order to petition the National Labor Relations Board to hold a vote, at which point rural carriers could vote on keeping the NRLCA, decertifying and not joining any union, or decertifying and joining a different union. He said they have about 10,000 signatures so far and need to collect the rest before the next contract goes into effect in May.
But what union would take them appears to be an open question. The Decertify NRLCA website says the carriers plan to join the Teamsters, but Teamsters spokesperson Kara Deniz told Motherboard, “We are not in talks with the rural carriers.”
NRLCA president Don Maston didn’t return a call requesting comment for this story, but on Wednesday the NRLCA posted on Facebook that it is “ aware of the efforts to decertify the NRLCA” and that it takes “any and all attacks against this union seriously and we will not sit idly by to see what happens.” It included a one-pager telling members that decertification would mean they’d have to renegotiate their contract, lose their union stewards and representatives, and that “management will have ALL the power.”
For his part, King said he would have taken a second job driving for Uber Eats or similar gig work like some of his colleagues except it would mean he couldn’t spend any time with his family. He’s stuck renting instead of buying a house, the rent keeps going up, and he needs to pull money out of his savings to cover expenses.
“We want a union that can represent us,” he said, “and we want a union that can represent us well.”
* This article was automatically syndicated and expanded from VICE: Motherboard.