Why Vote ‘Yes’
Executive Vice President
(This article was first published in the April-June 2011 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
APWU members, an important decision is in your hands: in march, the APWU and USPS reached a Tentative Agreement on a new contract, and now you have the opportunity to vote on ratification.
The APWU Rank-and-File Bargaining Advisory Committee voted unanimously to approve the agreement, as did the National Executive Board. We urge you to vote “yes” as well.
The bargaining process was a long and complicated one, and it involved input from every level of our organization. The APWU Negotiating Team reviewed resolutions that were approved by delegates to state and national conventions; considered hundreds of recommendations from conferences and seminars, and evaluated suggestions from stewards, union officers, and members on the workroom floor.
No End in Sight
These were difficult negotiations under difficult circumstances. The backdrop for bargaining was our nation’s uncertain economic conditions, the Postal Service’s financial crisis, and a decline in mail volume. In the last several years, the USPS has eliminated more than 100,000 postal jobs, implemented a hiring freeze, engaged in widespread excessing of APWU members, outsourced our work, and announced plans to consolidate Processing and Distribution Centers and close hundreds of stations and branches. Management had no plans to let up, and anti-labor members of Congress continue to demand even more job cuts and outsourcing.
Under these most challenging circumstances, the Negotiating Team was successful in reaching an agreement that maintains protection against layoffs, safeguards jobs, imposes limits on excessing, retains cost-of-living allowances, and provides wage increases.
Throughout the negotiations, we sought to preserve our current work; return work that was previously contracted out or assigned to supervisory personnel, and provide our members the opportunity to perform new work. The Tentative Agreement accomplishes these goals, and much more. By protecting jobs, we are securing our future.
The agreement also contains some necessary compromises. These include new starting and ending salaries for future employees in Levels 3 through 8, and an increase in the number of non-career employees, who will be known as “Postal Support Employees.” These employees will be paid lower wages than career employees, but higher wages than Transitional Employees and Casuals, which will be eliminated as workforce categories.
Postal Support Employees will be part of the APWU bargaining unit, receive raises, earn leave, be eligible for health benefits, and have the opportunity to become career employees by seniority.
Considering Our Options
During negotiations, we concluded that there was a strong possibility that arbitration would have resulted in lower wages for new employees and more non-career employees, but without many of the improvements and protections we negotiated for current members. As a matter of fact, in less challenging times arbitrators established lower wages for new employees on at least two occasions, and created the non-career category of Transitional Employees.
We can never know for sure what the outcome of arbitration would have been under today’s more severe circumstances, but we believe the guarantee of additional jobs and work, limits on excessing, and more rights and benefits for the new non-career employees was a wise bargain.
Many union members have expressed appreciation for the COLAs and wage increases under these difficult times, but they have been even more enthusiastic about retaining protection against layoffs, winning limits on excessing, gaining additional jobs, and the many other negotiated improvements.
In preparing for bargaining, we took into consideration the pressing issues that are confronting APWU members and we tried to address them. With this as our standard, we believe the Tentative Agreement is fair to our members. It also will help the USPS restore service and succeed in the future, which is in our best interest.
I urge you to vote “yes” for ratification of the Tentative Agreement.
Attacks on Public Workers
With public-sector workers across the country fighting to defend their right to bargain, our Tentative Agreement shows that collective bargaining works, and it demonstrates the value of having a voice at work.
The APWU urges union members to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in states that are trying to deprive public-sector employees of this basic American freedom.
On March 2, 2011, I had the pleasure of speaking at a rally in Wisconsin’s state capital, joining thousands of workers who were protesting attacks on collective bargaining. As postal workers, we stand united with our brothers and sisters in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, and elsewhere throughout our great nation. The struggle of employees to protect their basic right to bargain affects every worker in America.
We are not alone in this struggle. We are joined by elected officials, community leaders and activists, religious leaders, private-sector workers, and people from all walks of life. Most noticeably, we are joined by young people, students — our lifeline — our future.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a Republican or Democrat, a conservative or liberal, a private-sector employee or a public-sector worker. This is a universal struggle for a common cause. It is part of the continuing struggle of middleclass Americans against corporations and politicians that would crush us if they could.
Workers and unions are being blamed for a recession we did not cause. We cannot let that happen. It has been said that the battle in Wisconsin is our “Ground Zero” — a fight over the fundamental right of working men and women to have a voice in the workplace. It is a fight for basic American values — freedom, fairness, and the right to speak, to organize, and to bargain for a better life.
If the anti-labor forces succeed in Wisconsin, we and other workers could be next. Remember, legislation is pending in the U.S. Senate that includes a provision that would modify our collective bargaining process and that would unfairly strengthen the Postal Service’s position in negotiations over ours.
As legislation depriving workers of fundamental rights advances in state after state, we must stand together — not just for the sake of solidarity, but for our survival. We cannot afford to do anything less.