Sometimes it’s the Right Thing to Do
(This article appears in the November-December 2013 edition of The American Postal Worker.)
As a result of the postal service’s shrinking workforce — and the APWU’s shrinking membership base — union members have important decisions to make about the structure and future of their locals.
Local unions were established to enforce the Collective Bargaining Agreement and provide representation to APWU members.
Over the years, officers and stewards have been recruited from among local union members to represent their co-workers and guide their organizations. But when the pool of potential union activists is reduced because of excessing, consolidation, or retirements, locals can be left without leaders.
In many cases, senior officers and stewards have been responsible for all the representation and administrative activities of a local. In some small locals, there have been instances where the president, treasurer, and steward retired at the same time.
Often times, no one is willing — or able — to step in to fill the void.
And as dues decline because of the drop in membership, local unions occasionally find themselves locked into an organizational structure they cannot support — the local constitution requires them to conduct specific activities and to have a set number of officers, but the local can no longer afford them.
Mission Not Accomplished
Local unions were established to enforce the Collective Bargaining Agreement and provide representation to APWU members. A local cannot justify its existence if it cannot fulfill this basic mission. When a local union is no longer able to offer the representation it was chartered to provide, union members should give serious consideration to invoking the merger procedures of the APWU. Merger guidelines [PDF], which were adopted by the National Executive Board in 1985 and amended over the years, outline three alternatives:
Form an area local by merging with another chartered local:
Forming an area local allows two separate locals to consolidate. This is a good option when the locals have competent leaders and stewards, but don’t have sufficient income to carry out their activities. By pooling resources and personnel, the new area local can provide representation and draw from a larger pool of activists to conduct its operations.
Merge with an existing area local:
Merging with an existing area local is usually the best option for a local that wants to maintain a locally negotiated contract, but doesn’t have the dues structure, officers, or stewards to represent local members. Locals that merge into existing area locals become members of that area local and can often negotiate specific terms for the merger that ensure a voice in local affairs.
Dissolve the local and become Members-at-Large:
If merger is not an option — because of location or membership choice — local members can choose to dissolve their local and merge with the state APWU. In these circumstances, the state’s union representatives serve as stewards and chief negotiators. If the local is dissolved, the members of the defunct local become Members-at-Large (MALs) of the national union and members of the state union. They have access to the resources of the state union for the purposes of representation.
The merger guidelines stipulate that members must vote to approve a merger and to set any terms of the merger. The rules also say that a local union’s jurisdiction is typically defined by the boundaries of the Sectional Center Facility (SCF) or the state. (The SCF is defined by the first three digits of the zip code in which a local or area local is located.) If the proposed merger crosses SCF boundary lines or state borders, the National Executive Board must give special authorization for the merger.
According to the union’s database, 89 percent of our members are represented by a local union that has more than 100 members, which means the local probably has a viable officer structure and sufficient funds to train representatives and run the union effectively.
However, there are 590 locals with fewer than 50 members. These smaller locals represent 6 percent of our active-duty members. The challenge for these locals is to ensure that their members get quality representation. Because of the small numbers, leadership responsibilities can be demanding.
When you get together with your co-workers to decide how to continue to secure the best possible representation for your local, I encourage you to consider merger options. Questions about merger procedures should be directed to the Secretary-Treasurer’s Department.