Portland APWU Rains on Potter’s Parade
Maine Elected Officials Honor Union Picket
When the Postal Service announced a ribbon-cutting ceremony Nov. 2 to celebrate the grand opening of an $82 million mail-processing center in Scarborough, ME, it expected that distinguished guests, such as Maine’s U.S. senators, would be pleased to be guests of honor. What USPS officials didn’t expect was an APWU protest — and that became much bigger news that the event itself.
More than 100 APWU members picketing in a steady, cold rain greeted senators Susan Collins (R) and Olympia Snowe (R), who had planned to help mark the opening of the state-of-the-art facility. When union protestors told them about severe understaffing at the new facility, the negative effect the lack of personnel would have on service, and shabby treatment of the area’s postal workers, the senators decided to stay away from the ceremonies, opting instead to visit with APWU protesters and answer media inquiries.
Gov. John Baldacci (D) and U.S. Rep. Tom Allen (D) also cancelled plans to attend the ceremony upon learning of the APWU protest, with Allen sending a staff member to walk the line with APWU members.
“I’m pleased that Senators Collins and Snowe got to hear from postal workers first-hand about the effect management policies will have on workers and on service to Maine’s citizens,” said APWU President William Burrus. “I applaud them for honoring the informational picket line.”
The new distribution center is intended to replace an older facility in Portland and perform work currently done at several nearby facilities. While the new facility is intended to improve efficiency, APWU Portland Area Local President Scott Adams said, “It has not been a smooth transition. We’re completely understaffed. Management has taken jobs from employees, replacing them with temporary help. They have treated us terribly in the last six months.”
After the picket, Collins and Snowe asked Potter to address the workers’ concerns. In a letter posted on Collins’ Web site that afternoon, the senators recounted the union’s objections and wrote, “It is critical we not lose sight of the fact that the success of the mail processing center depends on the dedicated people who work there. We also believe it is important and ultimately beneficial to the mission of the Postal Service to consider keeping people in the jobs in which they excel.”
“We urge you to review and reconsider your decisions with regard to these job reclassifications at the Scarborough facility,” they continued. “We also request you inform us with respect to the justification for your decisions.” Collins chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees the Postal Service.
APWU President William Burrus praised Maine’s union members for “braving the bitter weather to take their message so effectively to their legislators and the media.
“Their protest was in response to local conditions,” he said. “It was not part of a nationally-coordinated effort; it was the result of local leaders working to represent the interests of their members.” Other union locals, including San Antonio, TX and Albuquerque, NM have also highlighted their concerns through public protests, Burrus noted.
“Unfortunately, in recent years the Postal Service has catered to the needs of major mailers, at the expense of workers and service to the individual citizens and small business,” he said. “We will continue to expose such ill-conceived policies in cities and towns across the country.”
In a show of labor solidarity, members of Portland Area Local members were joined at the picket by representatives from the union’s Manchester, NH and Augusta, ME locals, as well as members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union (IBEW), the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the International Association of Machinist (IAM), the Southern Maine Labor Council (AFL-CIO), and the APWU Auxiliary.
Doris Poland, president of the APWU Auxiliary, also attended. She said the labor movement was united in seeking to prevent postal officials from “doing as they pleased with jobs and people with no actual thought to the impact on workers or the processing of mail in a timely fashion.”