House Hearing Sets Troubling Precedent
APWU Web News Article 043-2011, April 13, 2011
APWU members across the country cheered when President Cliff Guffey stood up for postal workers at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on April 5, but the inquiry into the union’s tentative Collective Bargaining Agreement set a troubling precedent nonetheless.
With governors and state legislatures across the country chipping away at the rights of teachers, nurses, and firefighters to engage in collective bargaining, the committee’s decision to examine the APWU’s proposed contract took on an ominous tone.
Throughout the hearing, Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and other Republicans on the panel said the agreement was too generous to workers and suggested it would contribute to the demise of the Postal Service. They repeatedly criticized Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and members of the USPS Board of Governors for acquiescing to the union’s demand to retain protection against layoffs.
Some took potshots at APWU President Cliff Guffey, too. (Watch video of a testy exchange.)
Undermining Collective Bargaining
But the significance of the hearing was bigger than the current Tentative Agreement [PDF]. The committee’s intervention in postal collective bargaining was a brazen attempt to undermine the process that has served the nation well for 40 years. (In 1970, following the Great Postal Strike, Congress passed the Postal Reorganization Act, which transformed the Post Office Department into the U.S. Postal Service and established collective bargaining.)
Clearly, the Republican majority on the panel had an agenda: To change the law that governs postal bargaining in order to strengthen management’s position and weaken postal unions.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe defended management’s decision to sign-off on the tentative agreement, as did Louis J. Guiliano, chairman of the USPS Board of Governors. But every time a congressman criticized the proposed contract, management’s explanation was the same:
“This was the best we could get under current law.” Republicans on the panel also took swipes at the “current law.” (Watch a video excerpt to see how many times!)
All of the witnesses — both union and management — agreed that a unique mandate of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) [PDF] has bludgeoned the agency, and they repeatedly urged Congress to rectify the provision, which requires the USPS to pre-fund the healthcare benefits of future retirees. No other government agency or private company is required to make these payments, which cost the USPS more than $5.5 billion per year.
By the close of the hearing, Chairman Issa reluctantly agreed to consider the pre-funding requirement. But clearly, the panel had more on its mind than liberating the Postal Service from the unreasonable and unfair mandate. And so did postal management.
Committee Republicans directed most of their questions about the proposed contract to Donahoe, Guiliano and USPS Governor James F. Miller III. But the timing of the hearing, just days before a ratification vote by APWU members got underway, seemed designed to spook union members.
Several Democrats on the committee expressed concern about interfering in the collective bargaining process. Prior to the advent of labor-management negotiations in the Postal Service in 1970, congressionally-set wages left postal workers in poverty and rendered the highly politicized Post Office Department mired in inefficiency.
Perhaps Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said it best:
“While it is appropriate for this Committee to conduct oversight of the Postal Service, we must be very, very sensitive to criticism that we are using today’s hearing to improperly shape the outcome of the impending vote [on ratification]. Both management and the union have negotiated in good faith, and we should allow workers to consider this Tentative Agreement without undue congressional intervention.”
A Few Choice Words…
Legislators on both sides of the aisle voiced opinions about the Tentative Agreement, the collective bargaining process, and the Postal Service at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on April 5.
Here’s what they had to say, in their own words:
On the Tentative Agreement…
— Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
— Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL)
On Workforce Costs…
— Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL) Chairman, Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy Subcommittee
— Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN)
— Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI)
On the Viability of the Postal Service…
— Rep. John Mica (R-FL)
— Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Minority Member, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
— Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY)
On the Tentative Agreement…
— Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Ranking Minority Member, Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and Labor Policy Subcommittee
On the Collective Bargaining Process…
— Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL)
— Rep. John Tierney (D-MA)
— Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO)
On Postal Wages…
— Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY)
— Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH)
— Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY)
On Postal Workforce…
— Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA)
— Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT)