Currently there is a wear test going on in four cities of completely different letter carrier uniforms. There seems to be a lot of confusion and little information about what exactly is going on. Let me share with you the little bit that we know, in order to answer some of the questions that you may have.
Historically, the USPS handles it uniform issues thru their Labor Relations department, and there is a Uniform Coordinator who works out of Labor Relations. Uniforms are addressed in the Employee Labor Manual (ELM) starting in section 933. In the past, the USPS would solicit new uniform ideas from their employees, the labor organizations that represent these employees, management, and from the manufacturers and dealers who make and sell the uniforms. In the past few years, due to budget restraints, there has been no money allocated by the USPS to wear test or certify anything new items. There have been plenty of new items proposed, many coming from the NALC, the manufacturers, the USPS Uniform Program Coordinator, individual letter carriers, and from us, Postal Uniform Discounters. Amongst these items that have been suggested are pants with cargo pockets, shoes that are lighter and more breathable using air mesh fabrics, wick away fabrics for shirts, navy and dark colored shirts to help hide any stains, and insulated under-garments.
The current wear test and process was done in the different way and not through the Uniform Coordinator or through Labor Relations, but through the USPS Marketing Department. Let me share with you what I know.
Facts About the Possible Postal Uniform Redesign
In September of 2014, a company that was hired by the USPS marketing department sent out a “request for information” (RFI) for uniform manufacturers to participate in a redesign of the USPS letter carriers uniform. This RFI caught the industry by surprise, as uniform changes in the past have always been a collaborative effort between the USPS, Labor Unions and certified manufacturers working together. The results in the past were successful uniform changes that addressed the goals of all parties - done at no cost to the USPS. Although the USPS Uniform Coordinator and the NALC and APWU were told that there was going to be an exploratory effort concerning uniforms, they too were caught by surprise by the proposed program and its extent.
With the goal of the USPS to gain more market share in the parcel business, the USPS marketing division felt the need to improve both their image and operations. This program's purpose is to begin the process of improving their image thru possible uniform changes. The USPS Uniform Coordinator states that Marketing told her that this is an effort to find ways to improve all aspects of the program, a part of which is the Uniform Program, but that nothing is set in stone and there is no expectation that anything will change in the short or long term.
Three companies (out of four that applied) were chosen to participate in the wear test, which is ongoing. They are Cintas (which owns Brookfield), Spiewak (an outfit that currently makes some USPS outerwear along with Public Safety Uniforms), and Vanity Fair (which besides owning brands such as Wrangler Jeans, Red Kap and Timberland, also makes Public Safety uniforms mainly thru the brand Horace Small). Each company is to provide full sets of uniforms for carriers to test.
We understand that there are wear tests being performed in limited stations in Houston, Pittsburgh, and two other cities. Supposedly some cities were dropped from consideration as NALC local representatives did not want their members wearing uniforms that are not made in the USA, where most of their existing items are currently manufactured. The way we understand it is that each recipient is to receive uniforms from all three participating manufacturers, and will fill out questionnaires about their experience and preferences, and that all that information will be consolidated and help the USPS consider new uniform designs. We are also under the impression that most wear testers are CCA’s; It is our understanding that many items that are being wear tested are not USA made, and that the specs for the program is that if any item is approved, the majority of the components need to be USA made, and some assembly be done in the USA; this is in contrast to the current rules, that stipulates that most items for the letter carriers must be 100% made in the USA of 100% USA manufactured components.
The APWU and NALC seem displeased about the approach that has been taken toward the uniform redesign. Both were aware that this was under consideration. They clearly have not had input on the process and this certainly seems to have created a high level of concern. Both unions are reviewing their options and are sitting tight to see the results of these wear tests. The unions seem that they would like to use the collaborative approach that was used when past changes were implemented. They certainly want their future uniforms to be 100% American made and access to union made products for their members is a priority.
In our opinion, having the CCA’s being the one’s wear testing defies logic somewhat - the CCA doesn’t have anything to compare it to, unlike the regular carriers. The regular experienced carrier has been wearing the existing uniform, has years of experience of the daily conditions they face thru out all the seasons, and in our opinion would have a better understanding of what would be beneficial in new uniform ideas.
Our industry representatives (National Association of Uniform Manufacturers and Distributors) have talked to all parties about the past successful program changes that occurred with footwear, outerwear and the all-weather gear. We described this as a collaborative process between the USPS, Labor Unions and certified manufacturers working together.We recently outlined to the USPS representatives a more thought out approach than seems to be occurring under the existing new Marketing proposal. In the recent past, industry suggestions for innovation and contemporizing of the existing uniform program have been squelched by the USPS, citing financial constraints.
Until this new RFI, the manufacturers would come up with new uniform ideas at no cost to the USPS, based upon suggestions from the labor unions, individuals wearing the uniforms, and those that make and sell the uniforms based upon the feedback from their USPS customers. The only cost to the USPS would be for certification and wear test. We do not know what the USPS is paying this third party to solicit and organize this RFI and program, but this money could be saved if past protocol was followed.
There is no “set in stone” timeline for moving forward with new uniform ideas that result from these wear tests. We understand that some representatives of the three manufacturers are telling the USPS employees that these items are right around the corner, and that their company will have an exclusive on these items. This is simply not true. Further damage is being done when some of these representatives are indicating that USPS employees should save their allowance for these new items, which will be implemented shortly. The NALC and APWU has advised our industry representatives that nothing can be changed without their input and approval, and that won’t be forthcoming until they get their chance to do their own due diligence on these items. Further the USPS Uniform Coordinator states that this is an exploratory research effort and no decisions will be made without all aspects and timelines explored and that this process is only conceptual and "purely experimental."
As far as our business and our status as a USPS uniform vendor (and top supplier of uniforms to CCA’s), I think it is best to let this process run its course, while we have a duty to give out factual information and address any misinformation that is being disseminated. We have been assured by the USPS Uniform Coordinator that this is not a move to change anything other than design, brand and image of the Postal Service including the Uniform Program, and that his will not affect the distribution system or current vendor programs as they are now. The postal employee Unions have always supported the uniform program as it is now, with companies such as ours, Postal Uniform Discounters (www.postaluniformdiscounters.com), competing with other on-line companies, stores, and companies that send sales representatives to the Post Office. We agree that this results in the best service, best pricing, and greatest choice to the employees, as we are all trying to get their business.
As more information becomes known, I will write an update. Until then, we thank you for your business!