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Covert Observation

Hello brothers and sisters! I’m going to talk about covert observation today and my thoughts and dealings with this. Have you ever been out on a route and noticed a car lurking down the street and seems to follow you from street to street? And when you get back to the station, you have a form 4584 placed on your case? Well, that my friends would be covert observation by a supervisor!

What’s a form 4584? You better learn this if you do not know what it is. It is the Driver’s Observation form they use to write you up for bad driving practices or to commend you on your performance while in the vehicle. They are supposed to get this form to you as soon as possible (same day) so that you may correct any deficiencies they may have observed you doing. If they do not get this form to you immediately, and there are some safety violations, it should be grieved immediately.

I was given a form 4584 18 days after the incident and after I was told I needed to take a driver’s training refresher course. Needless to say I grieved it. What good is a driver’s safety form if they do not give it to you immediately to correct a deficiency? By their own actions, they prove that it must not be THAT important to correct since it took 18 days to let me know! By letting me drive with them stating I have a deficiency, they have acquiesced that the violation is of no importance. The deficiency they cited me with was proven bogus when I even showed the street supervisor in the safety manual where she was citing from that a carrier may have his door open 500 ft. or less and moving less than 15 mph. She stated, “I didn’t know that.” But, she wrote me up anyway and I got it thrown out later. So much for qualified and informed street supervision! What else would you expect? You’d think they would at least read the safety manuals they are out to enforce, wouldn’t you?……Yeah, I guess you’re right…expecting effort from management is like expecting me to skip my lunch and breaks. Ain’t gonna happen!

Here is the excerpt out of the M-39 on Covert Observation

134.21 The manager must maintain an objective attitude in conducting street supervision and discharge this duty in an open and above board manner. 134.22 The manager is not to spy or use other covert techniques. Any employee infractions are to be handled in accordance with the section in the current National Agreement that deal with these problems.

The key here is an open and above board manner. My interpretation of this is that to do so in this manner, the carrier must be notified that he is being observed. Although it does not say when, once the observation is through, the carrier should be notified he was observed. To do so otherwise, would not be “open and above board”, now would it? This does not mean the carrier must be notified before being observed. Carriers should be reminded that you are paid to follow the safety rules of the postal service. If you are rushing and not doing as you have been instructed, then you must expect to get nailed in a street observation. The fault is your own. The Steward then is only looking at negotiating your length of the LOW instead of whether you did it or not. Only in special situations where an interpretation of an observance may be challenged will the Steward be able to fight whether you did it or not. Simple facts such as emergency brake left off, door wide open, or a key left in the ignition, are not grievances the Steward can fight, unless stupidity is your defense. I am not trying to downgrade carriers, but you know the rules, follow them. The only one that can be harmed by not following these rules are themselves. It takes more time, do it and make your call accordingly. It is not your job to rush about to make your route 8 hrs. It is management’s job to adjust it to 8 or pay you the OT. Why rush to help them with their numbers while they are out there to catch you helping them so they can write you up and suspend you, or even worse put you off the clock right then and there? They can do that on a safety issue you know! Now, does that make sense to do that? I didn’t think so.

If the street supervisor does not come up to you, whether it is a good observation or bad one (and they always come up to you if it is a bad one, don’t they!?), and you receive a 4584, grieve it for covert observation immediately. Stewards should keep a lookout for this violation, especially for the “good observations”. Mgmt. feels that if they did not violate the driving procedures then they do not need to say anything to the carrier. Continued next column...


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Hogwash! Go up and commend the carrier for doing the right thing! Guess they haven’t heard of positive reinforcement here in the 21st century! That’s because they still run by a disciplinary mgmt. style from the 19th century! They are probably sorry that whips and chains can’t still be used! Lucky for us! Anyway, the M-39 makes no distinction between bad or good observations, it is stated that the observations will be done in an open and above board manner, period. That means good or bad. Grieve it if they do not introduce themselves to you at the time of the observation.

Also, under covert observations would be any change of the MSP barcodes without your knowledge. An arbitration won in New Jersey stated that a supervisor changed a barcode to see if the carrier had a duplicate bar code he was scanning. He was. He felt it necessary to have a duplicate to scan at the same time each day because mgmt. was harassing them so much for having variances on their street time, so he made a copy and scanned it at the same time each day. He thought no harm, no foul. Mgmt. noticed that the scans were the exact time everyday, so they went out and changed the one of the scans. They changed one number on the address of the scan. So when the carrier scanned his copy, he scanned the “wrong” scan. Of course mgmt. then brought charges against the carrier trying to do what mgmt. said he must do. He did not know the duplicate was not to be done. The arbitrator ruled that the replacement scan was a “covert observation” under the M-39 and thrown out. This was not done in an open and above board manner as stipulated by the manual. Carrier was made whole and now scans when he gets there. Supervisor was made to look like an idiot (not a hard thing to do!) and the case resolved. Be aware though, that a Postal Inspector has the authority to change a bar code and you have no defense of covert observation. Their job is based on covert operations and is protected. But if your supervisor tries something like this, cite the M-39 for the defense.

Well, I hope this enlightens you to covert observations and my interpretation of what it means. I have grieved it and resolved this issue at both my stations using this. I hope you have the same luck!


Denny Belden
Aka-VetCarrier Orlando, FL - NALC Branch 1091

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