Written by Paul Felton; uploaded by Art Myatt
The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) contract with the Postal Service expires May 20, 2015. The APWU has an extremely progressive leadership. Rather than leaving the contract entirely to the “experts” at the negotiating table, APWU is mobilizing the membership to reach out to the public for support. The theme of the campaign is Good Service, Good Jobs.
First, to deal with some common misconceptions. The Postal Service does not get any tax dollars. It survives on revenue generated from postage and sale of postal products. And a little known fact: the Postal Service made a profit of more than a billion dollars last year on its operations.
The only reason USPS must report a net loss is a 2006 law passed by a lame duck Republican Congress (with support from some Democrats) requiring USPS to put aside 5.5 billion dollars a year into a special fund to ensure that 75 years from now, postal retirees will have health care. No private business or government agency operates under such a restriction.
The USPS Board of Governors, which is the highest decision making body for the Postal Service, is composed of corporate execs who have no loyalty to the concept of a public postal service that serves the people. They have used the artificially created financial crisis as an excuse to institute drastic cutbacks.
Among the cutbacks they have proposed are eliminating Saturday letter delivery, closing large numbers of post offices (especially small rural offices and inner city offices), moving away from door-to-door delivery in favor of “cluster boxes,” to mention a few.
The most immediate cutback is the closure of 82 mail processing plants and relaxing the service standards. What does this mean? It means if you live in Lansing and you send a letter to another Lansing address, it will no longer be delivered the next day. It won’t be worked in Lansing; it will travel to Pontiac to be sorted, and then shipped back to Lansing.
And get this: at the plant in Pontiac – and in plants all over the country – management is virtually eliminating the midnight shift, moving those employees to day shift or afternoons. The midnight shift was the shift that got mail to the carrier for delivery in the morning.
Management is building a delay into the process. They have changed the service standards to reclassify what was once considered next day mail – it is now 2-3 day mail (including a letter that’s only going across the street).
New APWU Leadership and the Contract Campaign
The first thing the new APWU leadership (elected in the fall of 2013) did was build an alliance with the other postal unions. Under the previous leadership, APWU just gave lip service to opposing cutbacks that mainly impacted letter carriers (who are in a different union, the NALC), while the NALC ignored attacks on APWU. Then, as the contract approached, national APWU built a Grand Alliance, including 64 national organizations. These include unions, civil rights groups, and a number of progressive organizations that you might expect to support APWU. It also includes Farm Aid, the National Council of Churches, and the National Association of Postal Supervisors!
At the bargaining table, we are raising issues that benefit the entire community. We are demanding a return to the old service standards, a moratorium on plant closings, and expansion of postal services.
A key proposal is postal banking. We want USPS to provide some simple banking services, as an alternative for low wage workers who are exploited by outfits that cash their checks or give payday loans at exorbitant interest. This could be a “win-win” in that it produces revenue for USPS and serves the community.
On the first day of contract talks, APWU had several allies at the table with us – Richard Trumka (President of the AFL-CIO), along with the Presidents of NALC, AFSCME, AFGE and CWA. Also actor/activist Danny Glover and commentator Jim Hightower. Locally, we are reaching out to retirees, senior citizens, veterans, small businesses, as well as traditional allies.
As I write these words, contract talks are in the early stages and there are no public rallies or demonstrations planned. Look at the web site apwu.org for more information.
Paul Felton is on the Executive Board of the 480-481 Area Local in Michigan. He is not a Green Party member but he welcomes support from a variety of organizations.