Burrus Outlines Ambitious Agenda at All-Craft Conference
Union Must Embrace Change, APWU President Declares
11/08/2007 - APWU President William Burrus outlined an ambitious agenda for the union’s future in a speech to the All-Craft Conference on Nov. 7. Urging conference participants to embrace change in a time of challenge, Burrus announced plans to hire five grassroots coordinators to help implement the union’s legislative program, and unveiled plans to better communicate with far-flung union members via the Internet.
“Many unions of the 20th Century did not change” with the times, Burrus said, and their members suffered as a result. “That will not happen to the American Postal Workers Union,” he declared. “We must incorporate change in everything we do — from the processing of grievances, to the representation of members, to the holding of union meetings, to the preparation of our newsletters,” he said.
Burrus promised to evaluate all of the union’s activities to ensure that the union is utilizing 21st Century tools.
Noting that Members-at-Large who work in small offices rarely come in contact with union officers and stewards, Burrus said the union would develop a new format to enable them to communicate with the union via computer. “There is no reason for a union officer to drive 50 miles to file a Step 1 grievance,” he said. The APWU must use 21st Century technology to handle grievances and enforce the contract, the union president said.
“We are not trying to compete with the state organizations,” which represent Members-at-Large, Burrus said, “but the era of relying solely on face-to-face communication has passed.”
“We can find other ways to share information,” he said, encouraging locals and state organizations to explore the use of town hall-style telephone and computer conferences.
Burrus also announced plans to hire five grassroots coordinators to implement the union’s political activities in each region. They will “combine the efforts, the interests, and the goals of our retirees, our activists, our locals and states, and individuals who are involved in the political process — organizing them into a single force to take our message to Congress and the president.”
“We are going to put together a comprehensive program so that we are as effective in the political arena as we are in the bargaining arena,” he said.
The union president said he had hoped to announce at the conference that legislation had been introduced in Congress to require the Postal Service to bargain with the APWU over subcontracting. Burrus expressed optimism that the legislation would be introduced soon — perhaps as early as next week.
“With your efforts,” he told conference participants, “we will get sufficient co-sponsors to move it to the president for his signature.” The hope is to get 218 co-sponsors in the House and 51 in the Senate, Burrus said.
“I have no hope that under the Bush administration we can get a signature for such legislation… but in January 2009 we will have a new president,” Burrus said to raucous cheers and applause. “And with your help, in January 2009, we are going to have a president who will sign anti-contracting legislation for the American Postal Workers Union.”
Keep COPA Coming
Burrus called on locals and state organizations to renew their efforts to raise money for COPA, the union’s Committee on Political Action. Noting that prior to 2001, the high-water mark for COPA contributions was approximately $300,000 per year, Burrus praised the efforts of the Legislative Department and COPA Field Organizer Janice Kelble in raising more than $1 million per year, beginning in 2003.
“But we can do better,” he said. “My goal has always been to reach $2 million per year, and that’s my challenge. That’s my target.”
“We can’t make it nationally unless you do it locally,” he said.
“I want COPA to become an integral part of our activities,” Burrus said, “just like the processing of grievances.” APWU members must be persuaded to participate, he said, because that is how the union can best work to protect the part of their jobs and benefits that are controlled by the legislative process.
A Victory on MTAC
Burrus also announced that the union had prevailed in its efforts to gain admittance to the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, a panel composed of large mailers that meets secretly with postal officials to develop long-term plans for the Postal Service. He called the agreement a “major accomplishment for the union.”
Every piece of equipment that postal employees interact with and every major management initiative — including network consolidation — began in the Mailers Technical Advisory Committee, Burrus said.
“This is the group making the plans for tomorrow’s United States Postal Service,” Burrus said, “and we only find out what their plans are once they are willing to go public.”
“If they are going to develop a new flat sorter, we don’t want to find out about it when they start putting it in our facility,” Burrus said. “We want to know five years before — when the idea begins.”
Despite MTAC’s role in influencing postal policy, the APWU had been denied admission to the panel. In May 2007 the union filed a lawsuit, charging that the secret policy meetings violated federal “government in the sunshine” laws. Faced with the prospect of losing the court case, the USPS sent written confirmation within the last few days that the APWU would be permitted access to the committee, Burrus said.
“We’re going to be there; we’re going to get that information; we’re going to monitor their activities,” Burrus said. “In short, we won!”
Burrus encouraged union members to consider the APWU Health Plan during this year’s Open Season. Noting reductions in the cost of the APWU Consumer Driven Health Plan, he said, “There is not a single individual in our society today — other than APWU-represented employees — who can say they have comprehensive medical coverage for less than $4 week.
“That’s a major achievement for APWU,” he said.
The APWU has a long road ahead, Burrus said, “but we have much to be proud of.”
“Thank you for your participation, your thirst for knowledge, and your contribution to our collective effort toward making life better for postal employees,” Burrus told conference participants.