Collective Bargaining Versus the “Open-Door”
(This article first appeared in the July-August 2018 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)
By President Mark Dimondstein
“My door is always open,” is a common refrain by managers at non-union companies. These bosses claim that any individual worker is welcome to just come in and talk about any problem or issue. Such “open door” policies, companies claim, prove workers don’t need unions. But once the talk becomes about raising wages, benefits and improving conditions of employment, the boss will show you the “open-door” exit -- to find work elsewhere!
Contrast that with unionized postal workers. We have a voice at work secured by our collective actions. Every few years we bargain with postal management for a new union contract addressing wages, step increases, job security, seniority, bidding, discipline procedures, career conversions, scheduling, overtime, leave, safety, and a host of other workplace issues. This process is called collective bargaining and provides the opportunity to achieve improvements in our working lives and the well-being of our families.
Many APWU members are relatively new hires at the Postal Service and most have come from non-union jobs where workers lack the power of organization. Collective bargaining is likely a new concept. Coming from the world of the “open door” policy, the idea that management is legally obligated to negotiate with workers through our union may be hard to believe. Joining together and acting as a group, we are the “collective” in bargaining.
The collective is always stronger than the individual. This is why union workers achieve wages averaging 15-20% higher than non-union workers within the same occupations and experience levels and receive far greater benefits be it vacation and sick leave, holidays, health coverage and retirement.
Collective bargaining takes different forms. We are currently engaged in more traditional bargaining – sitting across the table from management, exchanging proposals, arguing our positions, and trying to hammer out a good contract. There is also the recent powerful example of teacher and school personnel uprisings that began in West Virginia earlier this year and spread Collective Bargaining versus the “Open-Door” to other states. Reminiscent of the Great Postal Strike of 1970, education workers throughout the country have engaged in collective action and “bargained” over wages and other conditions of employment from the streets – winning large pay increases and needed funding for public school students.
Collective bargaining, by itself, in whichever form it takes, won’t topple Wall Street control -- that will take a fundamental change in the power relationships in our society. Nor can collective bargaining solve all the problems of staggering income inequality where just six members of the Walmart family have the combined wealth of 40% of the U.S. population, some 130 million people lower on the income ladder; or where Amazon owner Jeff Bezos is “worth” so much that his wealth obscenely grows by $230,000 a minute! But unionization and collective bargaining create some level of workers’ power, enabling us to gain a greater share of the wealth that we create through what we produce or the services we provide. Whenever there are higher levels of union organization and more collective bargaining rights, there is less inequality.
Collective bargaining for our new union contract with postal management began on June 26. I am honored to be your lead negotiator. Your national negotiating committee is well-prepared and committed to fighting for a
fair contract. We will not voluntarily agree to concessions that give away hard-won gains.
But the negotiating committee has no magic wands. We face major challenges during this round of bargaining. But remember, “collective” action is our strength. There is a role for every member to play in securing a new contract that APWU members can be proud of. It will take us all to win!