Guffey Defends Collective Bargaining
APWU News Bulletin 05-2011, April 5, 2011 | PDF
(updated 04/06/11 - longer version than appears in the PDF mailed April 5)
In a contentious hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, APWU President Cliff Guffey gave a vigorous defense of collective bargaining and postal employees.
The APWU approached the labor negotiations with one primary test in mind, Guffey said: “What will be right for the Postal Service, the American people it serves, and the employees we represent? It is a testament to the value of collective bargaining that the APWU and the Postal Service have reached a Tentative Agreement that meets this test.”
During the April 5 hearing, Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) said the Tentative Agreement would not generate needed savings, and insisted that labor costs must be reduced.
Rep. Elijah Cummings (MD), the ranking Democrat on the panel, sounded a note of caution. “While it is appropriate for this Committee to conduct oversight of the Postal Service, we must be sensitive to criticism that we are using today’s hearing to improperly shape the outcome of the impending vote. Both management and the union have negotiated in good faith, and we should allow workers to consider this Tentative Agreement without undue congressional intervention.”
Issa and other Republicans chastised Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and members of the USPS Board of Governors for agreeing to extend protection against layoffs. “On this side of the dais, we have deep concerns that some of the provisions of the contract might in fact lead toward the wrong direction — toward less flexibility, less ability to trim the workforce,” Issa said.
The union was adamant about protecting jobs, Donahoe testified. “We originally approached the APWU at the very beginning to talk about the layoff clause,” he said, “but we got the immediate feedback that that was a non-starter.”
“Postal employment has been, and continues to be, an important source of middle-class employment opportunities,” Guffey testified, noting that 129,000 postal employees — or 22 percent of the workforce — are veterans, and that approximately 40 percent are women and approximately 40 percent are minorities.
Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), chairman of the postal subcommittee, claimed postal employees enjoy a wage premium of 34 percent and criticized the USPS for agreeing to a tentative contract that “maintains no-layoff protection, guarantees wage increases, and ensures that USPS employees continue to pay a lower portion of healthcare premiums than any other federal employees.”
But Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) disputed Ross’ claim of a wage premium. Maloney cited a study that showed that “postal letter carriers start at $15.85 an hour, while the starting pay for a UPS driver and a FedEx carrier are roughly $16 and $14, respectively.”
If Congress Wants to Help
Guffey and the USPS representatives stressed the need for legislative relief from the congressional mandate to pre-fund retiree healthcare payments, which is pushing the Postal Service toward insolvency. No other government agency or private company faces this requirement.
“If this Committee wants to help the $1 trillion per year mailing industry,” Guffey told the panel, “it should relieve the Postal Service of the burden of pre-funding retiree health benefits.” Without that “unique, unreasonable, and unnecessary requirement,” the Postal Service would have had a substantial financial surplus over the past four years.
USPS Board of Governors Chairman Louis J. Giuliano and Governor James C. Miller III defended the contract as well, but signaled their desire for legislative changes to strengthen management’s position in bargaining. Both said the Tentative Agreement was the best management could get “under current law.”
Democrats on the committee praised the agreement and the collective bargaining process. “Guffey, PMG, let me commend both of you on the tentative contract and the negotiations,” said Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL). “It is one of the most positive labor-management movements that I’ve seen in a long time. And I know that there are efforts on the parts of some people in our country to diminish the role of unions… But this is a win-win situation for the American public.”
Don’t Let Politicians Stop You From Voting
Politicians and pundits are watching,” said union President Cliff Guffey, “so it is crucial that APWU members exercise their right to vote on ratification of the Tentative Agreement.
“The contract will have a profound effect on our members’ lives and livelihoods,” he said. “To encourage participation in balloting, and to spark friendly competition among locals, the APWU offers incentives to locals with the highest voting percentages.”
At the April 5 hearing, however, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) said the incentives were tantamount to “buying votes.” [view this exchange]
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Guffey said. “We simply want to encourage our members to have a say in determining their future. I encourage every member: VOTE!