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President's Viewpoint:

Our Struggle Moves to the Halls of Congress
Presidential Commission's Report: 'Devastating

(This article was first published in the September/October 2003 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

The President's Commission on the U.S. Postal Service has issued its final report and, as expected, its recommendations would have a devastating effect on postal workers. The report confirms our prediction that the commission was more concerned about postage rates for large mailers than service to the American public. Collectively, the recommended changes represented the "wish list" of the large mailers, and the commission complacently fulfilled their wildest dreams.

Our battle now moves to Congress, where legislation will be introduced to enact into law a model to govern the Postal Service into the future. The American Postal Workers Union must renew its struggle to preserve postal services for the American public and to protect the rights of postal employees to have a voice in their conditions of employment.

Few Remember

There are few current postal employees who remember the dark days prior to the Postal Reorganization Act of 1971; few remember when postal workers qualified for welfare because wages were so depressed. Forgotten is the requirement to work 21 years before making the final progression from entry step to top step. We do not collectively remember when the Postal Service did not contribute to health benefits, and how when the program was first initiated it mandated a waiting time for coverage, including nine months prior enrollment for payment of childbirth benefits. The advances over the past 32 years have been so gradual that most employees who began their careers in the intervening years have little understanding of the conditions that existed during the darkest days ® before collective bargaining.

Because the unions have been successful in gradually improving wages and conditions of employment over three decades, the perception of permanency has fed the widespread belief that these rights and benefits are guaranteed.

The report of the presidential commission and proposed congressional action promise to turn back the clock, wiping out all of the advances made since 1971. Your wages would be reduced substantially; your retirement and health benefits balanced against your salary, including COLA; your no-layoff protection would disappear (along with your job); your right to adequate compensation after injury on the job would be drastically reduced; and your opportunity for career enhancement through the application of seniority to other postal jobs, i.e. retail, maintenance; transportation and other skilled positions, would be eliminated, along with the opportunities for transfer to other offices. Hundreds of plants and thousands of post offices could be closed, taking with them tens of thousands of job opportunities.

These proposed changes, bearing the stamp of a presidential commission, would adversely impact all postal employees, without exception. The security that you have enjoyed over the length of your career would vanish, and you could easily become a transient worker in the new economy ® the economy of Wal-Mart and McDonald's.

Recommendations Hurt All

In its zeal to placate the large mailers, the commission attacked every postal entity:

  • It proposed replacing the Postal Rate Commission with a Postal Regulatory Board that would be appointed by the president. This new process would mean that all of the current members would be replaced.
  • The Postal Board of Governors would be replaced with a Board of Directors whose members would be expected to have a great deal of business expertise. In a direct affront to several members of the current board, a mandatory retirement age is recommended that would disqualify them.
  • The postmaster general and his executive staff would be stripped of virtually all authority except the responsibility of signing checks.
  • In the middle management ranks, postmasters and supervisors have been targeted by a plan to close post offices and mail processing plants that inevitably would reduce their ranks.

But the Commission reserved its most regressive changes for craft postal workers, recommending the destruction of the collective bargaining process and the separation of postal employees from federal health, retirement, and worker-compensation benefit programs.

The Mixed Agenda

While the commission has issued a report rife with negative recommendations, the die has not been finally cast. Key members of Congress have expressed their individual disagreements with entire sections of the report, including several representatives who have voiced specific opposition to the proposals that would strip workers of their bargaining rights. Others have spoken out against the closing of small offices and plants, and many have questioned the wisdom of granting unprecedented authority to a Postal Regulatory Board.

These individual expressions are welcome. But they do not represent opposition by a majority of the 435 members of the House of Representatives or the 100 members of the Senate. Therefore, it is the task of the union ® at the national, state and local level ® to fashion common objectives and resistance to proposed changes.

Complicating matters further, each segment of the Postal Service workforce has its own agenda. Consistent with the axiom, "it depends on whose ox is being gored," forming a coalition to protect workers' interests in Congress will not be easy.

The postmasters, supervisors, and the other major craft unions have been outspoken in their support for postal "reform" for years, while the APWU has opposed such legislation. Some openly advocated contracting out the jobs worked by APWU members, so long as their own areas of jurisdiction would be left untouched.

Efforts have been made to reach common ground with the large mailers, overlooking the fact that the mailers are not allies, but rather are vermin that would suck the lifeblood out of every right and benefit that has been achieved. Their fundamental goal is to reduce postal wages and benefits in order to keep their postage costs low. Given the opportunity, they would suck the lifeblood out of every right and benefit that we have achieved.

If workers' salaries and benefits are reduced, every employee ® whether labor or management ® would be affected. Under commission recommendations, a reduction of wages for existing and future employees would apply similarly to all crafts, as well as to supervisors and postmasters.

A Nazi concentration camp victim once said:

"They first came for the communists, and I did not speak up because I was not a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up."

What You Must Do

But whether or not other postal organizations find common ground with APWU objectives, it is your responsibility to join with efforts to protect your job. All of the benefits emanating from the strike of 1970 are in jeopardy.

There can be no "free ride." In this struggle, you are either a part of the solution or you are part of the problem. You are being called upon to join in local efforts to engage your elected representatives and your community. If you are too busy to spend the time necessary to effectively lobby, please give to the Committee On Political Action so that others can represent your interest. Your future is at stake and you must be a part of the solution.

The struggle continues.

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 APWU President William Burrus

APWU President William Burrus
Telephone: 202-842-4250


The American Postal Workers Unionís top officer is its president, William Burrus. The president has overall responsibility for the operations of the APWU, as directed by the Constitution and Bylaws.

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