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National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO v. United States Postal Service

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 6, 2019

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF LETTER CARRIERS, AFL-CIO, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES E. BOASBERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant United States Postal Service has unilaterally reformed the duties and functions of letter carriers in the Annandale, Virginia, Post Office, requiring them to spend less time in the office and more time on the street. To boot, USPS is currently rolling out these test reforms at several hundred other post offices. Plaintiff, the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO (NALC) - a labor union that represents postal employees - now moves for injunctive relief to block this new workplace initiative. NALC alleges that these actions constitute a breach of the parties' operative collective-bargaining agreement and several Postal Service regulations. Later this month, the parties are scheduled to arbitrate this dispute under the terms of the CBA. But the Union asks this Court to intervene now, on the ground that Defendant's reforms are currently injuring its members' physical health, damages that arbitration cannot remedy. It therefore seeks a preliminary injunction pending arbitration. Because such relief is unnecessary to protect the integrity of the arbitral process, the Court concludes that it lacks jurisdiction to grant an injunction and will deny Plaintiff's Motion and dismiss the case.

         I. Background

         NALC represents city letter carriers employed by the Postal Service. See ECF No. 1 (Complaint), ¶ 1. USPS, in turn, is an independent agency of the Executive Branch, see 39 U.S.C. § 201, that provides mail services throughout the country. Id. §§ 101, 403. Of central significance here, the relationship between the Union and the Postal Service is governed by a CBA that sets forth the terms and conditions of the employment of carriers. See Compl., ¶¶ 16- 28.

         In particular, Article 34 lays out the procedure for testing potential changes in “work measurement systems or work or time standards.” ECF No. 2 (Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction), Exh. 2 (Exhibit A - 2016 CBA), Art. 34(B). Article 34(C) provides that when USPS “determines the need to implement any new nationally developed and nationally applicable work or time standards, it will first conduct a test or tests of the standards in one or more installations.” And if a dispute arises involving the interpretation of the CBA, the parties' agreement sets out a grievance procedure that includes national-level arbitration. Id., Arts. 15, 34(D), 34(E).

         The conflict here centers around the Postal Service's Consolidated Casing Initiative (CCI), which is meant to streamline its operations. See Compl., ¶¶ 29-63. Ordinarily, a carrier's daily duties include both office time and street time. Id., ¶¶ 11-12. While at the office, a letter carrier “cases” the mail for his route and performs other related work. Id., ¶ 12. More specifically, “[c]asing mail involves sorting mail by address, by placing the pieces of mail for the delivery route into . . . a cabinet-like structure.” Id. After doing so, the letter carrier spends the rest of his shift delivering the mail on a designated delivery route. Id., ¶ 13.

         According to Defendant, this model of doing business is outdated and has created operational inefficiencies, inflated costs, and reduced workspace. See ECF No. 11 (Defendant's Motion to Dismiss) at 7-8. To address these concerns, it developed an initiative to test restructured carrier assignments. Id. at 8; see also Compl., ¶¶ 29-30, 35. The test consists of assigning some carriers exclusively office duties - i.e., casing - and others exclusively street duties - i.e., mail delivery. Id., ¶¶ 29-30. In a letter dated March 21, 2019, Defendant notified the Union that the Annandale, Virginia, Post Office would serve as the first “test site.” Id., ¶ 30. The Postal Service also asserted that its initiative complied with Article 34 of the CBA. Id., ¶ 29.

         On April 24, NALC responded by initiating a national-level grievance, alleging that the Service's actions violated the CBA. Id., ¶ 31. It further explained that the initiative was not authorized by Article 34 and breached other provisions of the CBA and Postal Service regulations. Id., ¶¶ 31, 44-51. Undeterred, USPS pushed forward, and less than a month later, it reconfigured the Annandale carriers' work assignments. Id., ¶ 34.

         This reform, the Union argues, has taken a heavy toll on some of its Annandale members. Id., ¶¶ 35-37, 39-43. Those assigned exclusively to street duty are working longer hours delivering mail and carrying heavier satchels. See Pl. PI Mot. at 8. And as they begin work about an hour later each day, they are “more . . . exposed to the heat of the long summer afternoons, ” deliver into the night hours in the fall and winter, and no longer can “run necessary personal errands before offices and businesses close.” Id. at 8-9. Shouldering this burden has resulted in “physical exhaustion, ailments, pain and mental stress.” Id. at 8. So far, the Postal Service has introduced its initiative at seven other sites, but it will increase that number to over 240, which expansion NALC also challenges. See ECF No. 16 (Plaintiff's Opposition) at 1.

         At an impasse, the parties initially agreed to arbitrate their dispute on December 18, 2019, see ECF No. 21 (Arbitration Notice) at 2, and they have recently agreed to move up the date to November 22. Id. Meanwhile, on August 29, the Union filed both a Complaint and a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction in this Court. In each filing, Plaintiff has sought to enjoin the Postal Service from proceeding with its initiative pending arbitration. See Compl. at 12 (Prayer for Relief); Pl. PI Mot. at 18. Defendant, in turn, moves to dismiss the Complaint for lack of jurisdiction.

         II. Legal Standard

         The Union's Complaint and its Motion are coterminous, as they both raise exactly the same issue - whether the Court can enjoin the Postal Service from carrying out its initiative before the late-November arbitration. See Compl. at 12 (Prayer for Relief); id., ¶¶ 58-63; Pl. PI Mot. at 10-18. In other words, the Complaint seeks no relief beyond the Motion; as NALC's filings thus rise and fall together, the Court need not address them separately. The Court, consequently, addresses only Defendant's Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Def. MTD at 1, 11.

         In considering such Motion, the Court must “treat the complaint's factual allegations as true and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'” Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (citation omitted) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608 (D.C. Cir. 1979)). The Court need not accept as true, however, “a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” nor an inference “unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint.” Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         Under Rule 12(b)(1), a plaintiff bears the burden of proving that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction to hear his claims. See Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). A court also has an “affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority.” Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F.Supp.2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001). As such, “‘the plaintiff's factual allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion' than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for ...


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