Opening Day of Contract Arbitration
Dimondstein: ‘Postal Workers Earn the Right to Be Justly Compensated for Our Service and Hard Work’
On the opening day of arbitration for a new contract, APWU President Mark Dimondstein stated the union’s case in an impassioned presentation to the arbitration panel. The text is below.
“The interests of the 200,000 postal workers represented by the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, are contained in the preamble of the APWU National Constitution. ‘We believe all members of labor have the right to economic, political and social justice.’ That is what we are continually seeking, including in this round of collective bargaining, now culminating in this interest arbitration process.
“Postal workers are passionate in our support for the crucial mission of the public Postal Service, which is outlined in the 1970 Postal Reorganization Act: ‘To provide postal services to bind the Nation together,’ to ‘provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas,’ and to ‘render postal services to all communities’…
“Postal workers are extremely proud of and dedicated to this mission of universal and uniform service to the people from all walks of life -- A mission so eloquently stated at the former Washington, D.C., Post Office, now the site of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Postal Museum, which says,
Messenger of Sympathy and Love
Servant of Parted Friends
Consoler of the Lonely
Bond of the Scattered Family
Enlarger of the Common Life
Carrier of News and Knowledge
Instrument of Trade and Industry
Promoter of Mutual Acquaintance
Of Peace and of Goodwill Among Men and Nations
“This noble mission is performed in a variety of ways by the workers our union proudly represents. My own experience as a postal worker is typical: I started as a part-time flexible Letter Sorting Machine operator. As a PTF I had no set schedule, worked long hours, and was assigned a variety of jobs. I switched to automation to make full-time regular. Over my career I ran OCRs and BCSs, had bid jobs on pouch racks and manual distribution, the outgoing LSM, Data Site and eventually window distribution clerk, both working the window and performing box mail duties. I never had a Saturday-Sunday off-day bid that I can recall, worked various Tour III jobs most of my career, and had to work 15 years before I gained a daytime bid job in Greensboro, North Carolina, despite many attempts throughout my career. I suffered a severe back injury early in my postal career, had jobs abolished and days off and times changed.
“Clerk Craft employees, of which I was a part, process and sort mail and serve customers’ many postal needs at tens of thousands of retail units from the smallest towns in rural America to the densely populated neighborhoods of the largest cities. Maintenance Craft employees keep the complex equipment running and the buildings of this massive public infrastructure cleaned and maintained. Motor Vehicle Craft employees move mail in all kinds of weather and repair the fleet of vehicles that keep the Letter Carriers at our doors six, and now even seven, days a week.
“And we do all this 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with much night, weekend and holiday work. We face excessing events, job abolishment, frequently changing work schedules and mandatory overtime that can negatively impact our lives and that of our families. Working conditions are far from ideal with 36,000 injuries a year, largely due to poor ergonomics of mechanization and automation.
“And we carry out our mission frequently short staffed, under stress, and all too often in the environment of management decisions, such as processing facility closings, reduction in retail hours, subcontracting and service standard reductions – decisions that undermine our work and service to the people of this country.
“Postal workers earn the right to be justly compensated for our service and hard work. The economic lot of workers should be constantly improving, and those improvements should be passed on from generation to generation. We earn the right to be provided a safe workplace, free of harassment and discrimination, and, after concluding our careers, to enjoy a secure and dignified retirement.
“Since the advent of collective bargaining in the Postal Service, the equal opportunity provided to all workers in the USPS, the equal pay for equal work, the equal opportunity for securing preferred duty assignment through seniority bidding, is not only a core principle of our union, but a beacon for all workers throughout the country. And it should be a model for all employers. Sadly it is not.
“According to facts based on Bureau of Labor Statistics research, the wage gap for women workers is 78 percent relative to their male counterparts. For African American workers compared to Caucasian workers the wage gap is approximately 69 percent. For Hispanic women this wage gap grows even further to an astounding 54 percent!
“It is in the interest of postal workers, and really all workers, that the USPS be the model employer it is mandated to be – an employer that doesn’t discriminate and doesn’t require local and state governments to help its employees make ends meet – essentially subsidizing the employer.
“Let me divert with a quick story. Years ago my wife was hired at a job at a non-union computer company in Boston. She was young and Caucasian. Workers were instructed that they were not allowed to talk to other workers about their wages. She worked side by side with an African American long-term worker, doing the same job and much more skilled than my wife, the new employee. They became friends and lo and behold, it came to light that my wife was hired off the street at substantially higher wages than her co-worker, who, by the way, was also a mother of nine children. This is the inherent discrimination in private-sector non-union workplaces that differs so much from the equal pay and opportunity of unionized postal employment. And this inherent discrimination is part of what management relies on for their argument that postal workers are paid too much.
“Likewise, it is in our interest to ensure that the Postal Service provides an opportunity for career employment for veterans, especially disabled veterans. The Postal Service’s leadership of many decades in this realm has quickly disintegrated with the advent of a non-career workforce that has become the entry position for almost all hiring and has become a barrier to the hiring of veterans.
“We cannot divorce this round of contract negotiations and these hearings from what happened in the negotiations in 2011 for the 2010-2015 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
“In 2011 the American Postal Workers Union and the Postal Service reached a voluntary agreement that resulted in a sea change of significant and far-reaching concessions. The 2010-2015 Agreement contained wage freezes for the first two years of a four and one-half year contract (followed by extremely modest wage increases for the last three years of 1 percent, 1.5 percent and 1 percent), eliminated two cost-of- living allowances, deferred a third and fourth one, increased employee contributions to health insurance premiums by approximately 20 percent, created a second, lower-tier pay scale of career employees at entry wage rates five to eight steps lower, and lowered the top steps of pay by five steps for most levels of pay.
“The terms redefined full-time work to as little as 30 hours a week and created new flexibility and thus further savings for the Postal Service. And it created a new ‘non-career’ bargaining unit employee, the Postal Support Employee, who receives low wages, extremely limited benefits, no sick leave, holiday or retirement benefits, and no guaranteed career conversions.
“It should shock the conscience, it should demand the attention of this Arbitration Board, that before the postal strike of 1970 many postal employees qualified for public assistance and here we are 46 years later with the same unacceptable state of affairs. The non-career workforce makes up approximately 30,000 employees of our bargaining unit, or about 17.5 percent of career complement numbers.
“Clearly, the postal workers we represent took significant economic hits in the last round of collective bargaining. It is the estimate of the USPS that for the life of the Agreement ending in May 2015 these concessions amounted to almost $4 billion in savings to the USPS. (Our economists believe it is much greater.) Many of those savings continue into the future. For example, when two years of pay raises are lost to pay freezes, those savings to the Postal Service carry forward far into the future, in fact through the employees’ entire career and extends for the employees that follow. The Postal Service places a $13 billion estimate for the postal savings from the givebacks and concessions of all four postal union contracts, since the other postal unions ended up with a series of similar concessions following the APWU/USPS voluntary agreement.
“The economic well-being and purchasing power of our members has been reduced, career status opportunities diminished, full-time work compromised, satisfying careers and our futures dimmed. While there were some management commitments made in the 2010 Agreement to the union for new job growth through a series of “Jobs MOUs [Memoranda of Understanding],” these in no way equaled the sacrifice of the employees. Adding insult to injury, many of those commitments never came to fruition.
“I am quite sure that the management side will be quick to point out that this concessionary 2010 CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement] was ratified by our members by a significant margin. This is a fact. But that vote was carried out in a rapid fashion with little time for digesting, debating and reflecting on the massive changes agreed to by the parties. Furthermore, the vote took place in a climate of uncertainty, confusion and fear.
“There was however a second 'vote' if you will, on the part of our bargaining unit that reflected how angry and frustrated workers were with the 2010-2015 CBA. After having two years’ experience with its impact, the postal workers declared how unacceptable the 2010 CBA was by voting for leadership change in the 2013 APWU union election, an election that was considered by all involved as a referendum on the 2010 CBA. Quite frankly, it was the anger and frustration over that Agreement that catapulted me from a dues-paying member with no office or title at the time to the presidency of the APWU. The rank and file postal worker spoke loud and clear: They felt enough was enough.
“And to be blunt about it – if we had the right to strike today, management’s economic demands of a new third-tier of career employees as well as their demands to expand rather than eliminate and reduce the non-career work force and destroy our COLA (which even in its current form doesn’t even keep us up with the rising cost of living) would be strike issues here and now. (And I think it is significant for the panel to note that the elimination of the two-tier wage structure in the auto industry was the key issue of the recent negotiations of the UAW and the big three auto companies. It was the key demand of the rank and file auto workers – and had it not been satisfactorily addressed in bargaining, would have indeed led to strikes this past year.)
“Clearly our members are deeply dissatisfied with the current state of affairs and they desire and expect positive change. They voted for that change in our unprecedented union election. In our 2014 convention, the highest authority of our union, the 2,000 delegates unanimously mandated that we would not engage in another round of concessionary bargaining and instead would try to reverse the course of events, reverse the ‘race to the bottom.’… “Our members want an end to the divisive three-tier structure that pays workers significantly different amounts for performing the same work. They want an end to a situation where new hires are non-career employees with poverty wages and no retirement security and where we see a 35 percent turnover rate and where full-time career work has been placed at risk.
“Our members want a career workforce where all bargaining unit members can make decent sustaining wages and receive a solid set of benefits – where our children reap the benefits of a better life. And since we fully acknowledge that after this round of bargaining non-career employees will remain in our POStPlan offices and possibly in some return of currently subcontracted work, our members seek fair wage increases and better benefits for those PSE bargaining unit employees who will remain.
“Now I accept that there are many differing views on whether the union agreement of the deeply concessionary 2010 contract was right or wrong. Many believe it was a legitimate and necessary response to management’s request to save the postal service from insolvency – in fact a courageous act of needed cooperation at a time of unprecedented crisis. Others believe the union leadership acted out of fear. Still others believe it was unnecessary and a sell-out. All, including postal management and the Postal Board of Governors, acknowledge – and acknowledged at the time – that the USPS never could have achieved these concessions in an arbitration award, even if an arbitration panel continued to apply “moderate restraint” philosophy. Not even close.
“But all those who have these differing views on the union side believe that the deep concessions of many billions of dollars transferred away from the wages and benefits of postal workers in the last contract should be considered temporary solutions to temporary problems. In the current round of negotiations we are facing a very different situation. Absent the congressionally manufactured pre-funding hoax, the Postal Service is enjoying strong financial operations performance with endless opportunities for expansion in response to the ecommerce revolution and new possibilities for expanded postal products and services.
“This interest arbitration forum is neither a bankruptcy court, nor is it a Postal Regulatory Commission that can deal with rates. It is not Congress that can, and should, legislate postal reform. It cannot address the pre-funding debacle or PRC exigency price rulings. It cannot bring back the billions of pieces of mail which, with the influence of the large mailers, have been diverted into the private sector through pre-sort corporate welfare discounts, and it cannot address management’s detrimental decisions to undermine service, severely slow down the mail, and drive away business and revenue.
“But what the Board can do is take the opportunity to justly compensate and elevate postal workers. And it can take the opportunity to promote a vision and path of a Postal Service that will be vibrant for generations to come. The union proposals do both. Our economic proposals are fair and reasonable, especially in light of the substantial sacrifice of postal workers over the last five years. These include (and I say ‘include’ because there are many others) our proposals for 3 percent a year general wage increases, an all-career workforce, protection of COLA and no lay-off, redefinition of full-time work as 40 hours a week and the creation of a singular pay scale.
“And our proposals for expanding hours of service and staffing for better customer convenience and service and expansion into financial services and postal banking will help secure a bright future for the public postal service.
“In former Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s farewell speech at the National Press Club, he proclaimed that young workers don’t deserve traditional defined-benefit retirement plans. He called on Congress to use the Postal Service as a ‘laboratory’ (and that is the term he used) for destroying these decent retirement plans (and other benefits such as healthcare benefits) as a prelude to eliminating them throughout the entire federal government.
“The APWU believes that the Postal Service should be a ‘laboratory,’ an incubator – as it has been for decades following the Postal Reorganization Act and the advent of true collective bargaining instead of collective begging – an incubator of good, living-wage jobs for workers from all walks of life, with equal pay for equal work for women and minorities and solid job opportunities for veterans.
“The Postal Service indeed faces challenges. That we don’t deny. But there are great opportunities as the public postal service continues to carry out its vital mission in the period of the ecommerce revolution. And postal workers should not be paying a price for management’s lack of vision and the downward spiral they have created.
“The key to the past, and now to the future success of the Postal Service, is the hard work and dedication of hundreds of thousands of postal workers – from those who sell postage and accept packages, to those who sort medicines and catalogues, to those who transport the mail and repair the vehicles, to those who maintain the equipment and facilities, to those who deliver the mail.
“Let me share a quick example of the kind of dedication I am speaking of. When I travel to various APWU conferences and Conventions, I often spend some time on the workroom floor as my way of staying in touch with rank-and-file postal workers. I seek their ideas and concerns. I was on a workroom floor in IL last fall. Two long-term women workers approached me, very troubled and concerned that the mail was sitting for days and the people were not getting the kind of service they were paying for and deserved. They had been working together on tour I for many years and with the change in service standards in January 2015 that eliminated overnight delivery they were able to secure daytime tour II jobs as some night time work shifted to day time work. They said to me, almost pleading with me, that while they were much better off personally, having finally gotten the opportunity for daytime shifts, if it meant better serving the customer they would gladly return to Tour I.
“Before I reach my concluding comments, let me tell you, as the Arbitration Board, part of my personal postal story. When I began working at the post office, hired as a career employee in 1983, my life rapidly changed for the better. I had three young children at the time. Literally overnight I was making good union wages and good benefits. I had union negotiated job security. I knew I had a future if I wanted to stay. My family became that much more fortunate when my wife also became a career postal worker, a year-and-a-half later.
“My postal career began 13 years after the start of a massive shift – one that turned low-paying postal work into good jobs, a shift that resulted from the 1970 postal strike. Those postal workers who stormed the heavens did not know if they would still have jobs after an unlawful job action. But their legitimate frustrations and anger left them no other path. They did it to take care of themselves and their families and in doing so took care of me and other postal workers who followed. I now believe it is our not only our turn to take care of ourselves, but to reach out to the new workers, the younger workers, and those who aren’t here yet to make sure we’re passing on decent sustaining wages, good benefits, secure retirements – where workers are not living to work, but working to live, and live decently.
“Growing income inequality in the U.S. is a huge and deeply troubling problem. It is clear to all that the issue is taking center stage in the presidential election. The top one tenth of one percent owns almost as much wealth of the bottom 90%. The ranks of the working poor (should be an oxymoron) has unfortunately grown by millions of workers over the last few years. It is harder and harder for working folks to make ends meet. Collective Bargaining gives us the opportunity to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
“Management’s drastic and regressive economic proposals demanding a new round of severe concessions: the elimination of the COLA, creation of a new lower third tier of career employee with reduced benefits amounting to a four tier wage system, higher percentages of non-career employees and less job security, are not only unwarranted by any legitimate measure, but are an insult. And they exacerbate the problem of vast income inequality.
“Leaving aside the wide spectrum of opinions of the 2010 CBA, it is now in the interests of postal workers to reverse the tide of the race to the bottom and turn back to the kind of standards of wages, benefits, workforce structure and rights that since the advent of collective bargaining in 1971 have made postal work a rewarding career, despite its challenges, that workers are proud of, where our work is honored and respected, our families are secure and our communities reap the benefits of both good and vital services and the positive impact of good jobs on the entire community.
“Today throughout the APWU represented workforce all over the country, thousands are donning stickers, ‘Opening Day, Fighting for Justice.’
“To postal workers, this is what it is all about, this is our interests.
“With that I conclude. Thank you.”