Protecting, Expanding Clerk Craft Jobs
(This article first appeared in the July-August 2015 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
We have, for the moment, stopped the bleeding of jobs as over 20,000 Postal Support Employees (PSEs) have been converted to career status in the last year. These workers now have higher pay, health care, and retirement benefits.
There are many reasons for the relatively remarkable achievement of conversions and slowing down the job losses in the Clerk Craft.
The first is the Filling of Residual Vacancies Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), which was signed on March 20, 2014. The MOU provided a conversion mechanism so that PSEs are in line to be converted when there are residual vacancies. Previously, conversion of PSEs to career was largely at the discretion of the Postal Service, which converted very few PSEs. We are working to improve the MOU and make PSE conversions a permanent part of Article 37 of the contract.
The second reason for the thousands of PSE conversions came with the POStPlan Staffing Memorandum of Understanding, which was signed on Sept. 22, 2014, following an arbitration award on the POStPlan. The settlement essentially gave the APWU jobs in many of the small post offices that were previously staffed by postmasters.
These two major agreements and others that followed contained a large amount of new material to learn and enforce. However, members, stewards, officers, business agents, regional coordinators, and national officers all worked hard to implement the new agreements. Their strong efforts made a significant difference in the lives of the workers who were converted to career.
Performing Craft Work
Stopping management from performing craft work is also important to prevent job loss and create more career jobs. The Dec. 5, 2014, settlement on Article 1.6.B of the Collective Bargaining Agreement was a significant achievement toward that end. This settlement was a long time coming, as the APWU has been attempting to stop management from performing craft work for decades.
The agreement will make it easier for local representatives to prevent management from performing craft work. The national APWU will provide local and state presidents with records showing when postmasters and supervisors performed bargaining unit work in violation of the agreement.
The additional method of tracking will help the APWU increase jobs in the Clerk Craft and provide compensation to bargaining unit employees in the small offices until they do so.
The Loss of Retail and
The Staples Fight
Another reason for the conversions of PSEs is the slowdown of job losses associated with retail operations. The Postal Service has big plans to continue to increase the transfer of postal retail work from post offices to private corporations such as Staples.
Staples and other large retail chains are a much bigger threat to postal jobs than the smaller Contract Postal Units. However, the Staples fight put corporations on notice that the APWU and our allies are not going to stand by and allow the continual dismantling of the Postal Service without a fight.
Some postal workers questioned why we should stand in front of Staples and ask customers to shop elsewhere. Statistically, the loss of jobs through privatization of mail processing and retail operations has been the biggest reason for job losses in the Clerk Craft.
In retail operations, window hours and employee hours at post offices have been reduced and the work has been transferred to private companies that pay low wages. A conversion process for PSEs to become career would become meaningless without good career jobs to be converted to.
Collectively, we owe much respect and gratitude to the organizers, members, families, and friends who have stood in front of Staples stores and fought the transfer of good union jobs to low-wage private-sector jobs.
The use of postage discounts to encourage the privatization of mail processing first started in 1976. The discounts were encouraged by corporate representatives on the Mailer’s Technical Advisory Committee (MTAC), which counsels the Postmaster General. The discounts are so generous that approximately 80 percent of bulk mail bypasses mail processing plants and is drop-shipped in the destination area. The mail that bypasses USPS mail processing plants also bypasses Clerk Craft employees.
The discounts for pre-sorting mail are so extreme that a presorting industry has emerged to profit from the excessive postage discounts. Many owners of these pre-sort companies pay their employees low wages, yet they make enough money to pay their executives millions of dollars.
One way the APWU and our allies can stop this form of privatization and bring valuable Clerk Craft work to the APWU is to address these excessive discounts and the companies that cultivate and take advantage of them.
Hope for the Future
There is strong hope for the future based on the significant job gains the APWU has recently secured, a president with an organizing mindset, the revitalization of an activist APWU, and the building of an alliance with other like-minded unions and community organizations.
I am encouraged by the thousands of members and their families and friends who have done so much to improve their workplaces and local communities and protect postal jobs in their area of the country. It is this type of spirit that has given us strength in the past and it is what will allow us to leave a proud legacy for the future.