[lbo-talk] Solidarity with postal workers!l

Joseph Green jgreen at communistvoice.org
Fri Apr 8 20:48:39 PDT 2011

I reproduce below a call for solidarity with postal workers from the Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list.

-- Joseph Green

jgreen at communistvoice.org

Postal workers are now facing disastrous changes in their wages and working conditions. The APWU is one of the four major American postal workers unions, along with the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mailhandlers Union, and the National Rural Letter Carriers Association. The tentative contract agreement agreed to by the APWU top leadership and postal management would institute yet another two-tier workforce arrangement in the post office, devastate the lower tier, and make life miserable for the upper tier as well.

The attack on postal workers is part of the attack on all workers, as well as part of the hatred displayed by the bourgeoisie for government workers (the post office being semi-governmental). The bourgeoisie, fattening itself as more and more workers are forced into poverty, is trying to pick off one section of workers after another.

The APWU top leadership has imposed one miserable contract after another on postal clerks. But this time the contract cuts far deeper than ever before, and there is major discontent against the contract. There is a real possibility that this contract may be rejected by the membership. This would not end the offensive against the postal workers, and it might result in the contract going to binding arbitration. But it would signal that postal workers are preparing to fight. It would be a message from present workers that they won't give up the conditions of future workers, and that they will also fight for their own rights. It would encourage the postal workers of all crafts and all unions to realize that collective anger is rising, and that it's past time for postal workers to join together in struggle.

We appeal to everyone to help rank-and-file postal workers fight this horrible contract. Yes, the union officials are split on this contract, with many local officials opposed. At least three APWU areas have already denounced the tentative agreement: the Northeast Massachusetts local, the Rhode Island State APWU, and the Des Moines area local. The agreement is so bad that it has even been denounced by William Burrus, outgoing president of the APWU who himself negotiated one rotten contract after another during his term of office. But we can't rely on union politics to defeat this contract. Unless rank-and-file postal workers are active, and unless other workers and activists give as much support to them as possible, this contract may pass and set a miserable precedent for all postal workers. (The NALC top leadership has already hinted that it's favorable to this contract. See http://www.postalnewsblog.com/2011/03/14/nalc-reaction-to-proposed-apwu- contract/, which describes the tentative contract as something that "appears to address the unique challenges confronted by the APWU".)

While discussion of the contract has already begun, it's today, April 8th, that it is being mailed out to all postal workers. There is to be a mail-in ballot ending on May 10, with the vote counted on May 11. So there's no time to waste. We call on all workers and progressive activists to do one or more of the folloiwng things:

1) Help bring knowledge of the real meaning of the provisions of this contract to postal workers in your area. Make yourself acquainted with what's going on, and talk with postal workers in your area.

2) Talk to other workers and let them know what's happening to postal workers. An injury to one is an injury to all. Moreover, when postal workers see other workers support them, this strikes against the tedious defeatist propaganda of the top APWU leadership that no one will support postal workers. And conversely, when one section of workers takes a stand, it helps all workers. If the contract proposal is defeated, it will encourage resistance to other aspects of the the capitalist war on the workers and the poor.

3) Circulate the "Detroit Workers' Voice" article on the contract, reprinted below, in your area. This leaflet was well-received by workers at the large Detroit P&DC mail facility at Fort Street, where "Detroit Workers Voice" has been distributed for many years. You can get this leaflet in PDF form at http://www.communistvoice.org/DWV99.pdf.

4) Write and distribute your own leaflet or statement supporting postal workers and calling for a NO! vote on the contract. You have our permission to use as much material as you want from the "Detroit Workers' Voice" leaflet on the contract. Encourage progressive organizations you belong to to take a stand against this contract and to distribute literature among postal workers.

5) Or also make use of the material denouncing the contract from various dissidents in the trade union bureaucracy. You can see this material at http://www.21cpw.com/ta.html. These materials will not contain a discussion of the need for independent organization among workers, but they will help show postal workers what the current contract proposal is like.

6) Form groups and networks of workers and activists to carry out this work, discuss the situation facing workers, and carry on struggle on other issues of the class struggle as well.

7) Write us at mail at communistvoice.org and tell us what you have done in support of postal workers so that we can spread the news about that.

Below is the text of "Detroit Workers' Voice" #99, April 5, 2011. ...

Yours in struggle,

Joseph Green, for the Detroit Workers' Voice

mail at communistvoice.org

Text of Detroit Workers' Voice #99, April 5, 2011:

----------------------------------------------- Solidarity against the sellout of new workers! No to wage cuts and 30-hour flex work schedules! ** Vote NO on the APWU contract! ** ------------------------------------------------

The APWU leadership has agreed to a disastrous tentative contract with postal management. If passed, future career postal workers´ standard of living would be severely slashed, 20% and more of the clerk workforce would be abused temporary workers, and present career workers would be robbed by rising health care premiums and by being forced into flex positions that Postmaster Donahue envisions as 30 hours a week. Don´t let management destroy our livelihood and pit present and future workers against each other! Vote this contract down!

No layoff clause a misleading "victory" ----------------------------------------

In order to sell this disaster, the APWU national leadership boasts that they retained the "no layoff" clause for present employees. Management is just going to rob us while keeping us! Though good, the no-layoff clause won´t protect anyone hired in the future. And this clause has not stopped management from eliminating 170,000 jobs in recent years. Nothing in this contract will stop the job loss by attrition, automation and increasing workloads that has led to massive excessing and overwork and has turned workers´ lives upside down. APWU president Cliff Guffey brags that his contract will reverse some outsourcing and bring work back in, but this work may largely go to the new temporary workers (called PSE´s). And tens of thousands of clerk, carrier and mailhandler jobs will be lost if 5-day operations goes into effect, an issue which Guffey, while touting the contract, has declared he will not fight.

Limits on excessing a fraud ----------------------------

But what about the new contract´s claim to limit excessing to within 50 miles of the workplace? The contract contains a loophole big enough for a U-Haul moving van to drive through. Under the agreement, management could say it has no positions available within 50 miles. Then the agreement permits excessing past 50 miles. But management always claims to have no positions in the area; it´s their constant chorus! So this limitation is a fraud.

Besides, despite the alleged current national freeze on excessing there´s still a lot of outrageous excessing, and management plans a huge number of closings and consolidations nationwide. In Detroit, excessing of window clerks and others continues as bid assignments go unfilled. But Guffey advises us to trust management not to take advantage of the excessing loophole! Really, Cliff! That´s right up there with the tooth fairy!

Wages and COLA for current workers - eaten away by inflation -------------------------------------------------------------

Guffey considers the wage settlement fair. Let´s see. Over four and a half years, wages increase 3.5%, but the first raise of 1% doesn´t arrive for a year and a half, in Nov. 2012. Inflation will outstrip that puny 1% "gain", and maybe by a lot considering rising gas, food, and health care prices. The first COLA raise won´t happen until Jan. 2013, or three years since the last COLA increase. There are some other tiny wage hikes and some COLA payments backloaded to the end of the contract.

But they won´t make up for all the losses before that.

Soaring health insurance payments ----------------------------------

Further, health insurance payment increases will insure that our wages are sucked dry. This contract would reduce the share management pays for workers´ health insurance by 1% a year, raising the employee contribution from 19 to 24%. In itself that would increase many workers´ health insurance costs several hundred dollars a year. But that doesn´t count the rising costs of the health insurance itself. Based on recent trends, premiums are likely to rise at least 10% a year. If today the total premium cost was $400 per pay period, it will rise over 60%, to $644, over five years. Today the worker pays 19% of that $400 each paycheck, or $76. Five years down the road the workers would pay 24% of $644, or $155 each payday. So a postal worker´s health insurance costs could easily double over life of the contract. In this example, health care payments taken from wages would cost workers an extra $2,054 a year five years from now. So what sellout Guffey calls a "slight" increase of just "several" dollars a year actually is a big rip-off of wages.

Wage cuts for future career workers -----------------------------------

A particularly horrible feature of the tentative agreement is it turns new career hires into second-class career employees. Their starting wages will be considerably lower than present career employees, cut by about $8,000 a year at Level 3 to about $5,000 a year at Level 5 or 6. New career workers would never reach the current top pay levels. These wage losses will also reduce pension benefits which depend on wage levels. New career employees would not be covered by the no-layoff clause, which applies only to those hired by November 2010. So the APWU leadership is accepting that there should be two unequal types of career employees. And in time, as the old workforce is replaced, the whole career workforce will suffer this much lower compensation. This atrocity is so bad that even former APWU president Bill Burrus, who produced many rotten contracts himself, is forced to admit this contract should be rejected.

Doubling the amount of abused temporary workers ------------------------------------------------

The contract would create a new form of third-tier temporary workers similar to present casuals. Essentially the use of what are presently called casuals could double to 20% and more of the workforce in mail processing and 10% in retail, maintenance and motor vehicles. These temporary workers would be renamed Postal Support Employees (PSEs). PSEs would be allowed to exceed 20%, as the contract provides that they will do whatever out-sourced work is brought back and that these PSEs would not be counted towards the 20% limit.

The PSEs would make very low wages, between $12 to $14/hr. depending of the job. They, like casuals now, would be hired for 360-day tours, with no work guaranteed beyond two hours on a scheduled day. They would be subject to layoff at any time and would be dependent on the "good will" of management to re-hire them each year. They could pay union dues, but could not grieve short hours or management´s failure to rehire them. Postmaster Donahue drools over using this growing army of low-tier slaves, boasting about how whatever restrictions exist on how they are scheduled are ripped away. Donahue states: *"No more restrictions around window, no restrictions around schemes, no restrictions around the time of day."* And he adds they could work in several jobs and facilities with different hours all in the same week.

But the union claims they have made great improvements compared to previous casuals. Let´s see. They say that the PSEs would get health benefits. But they only qualify if they´re rehired for a second year, giving management an incentive not to rehire them but just bring in a new bunch. They would get some annual leave, but limited to 2 1/2 weeks maximum and reduced if their hours are cut. They can contribute to TSP retirement, but get no matching funds from management and no postal pension. PSE wages would be so low they couldn´t put much into the TSP. PSEs could join the union, which is nice, except for the fact that the union is allowing them to be so abused.

These often-empty benefits can´t hide the fact that overall, the tentative contract allows a huge increase in the number of employees who make low wages, have almost no benefits, and endure horrible schedules and no job stability.

"Flexible schedules": goodbye 8-hour days, hello 30-hour weeks ---------------------------------------------------------------

Working over eight hours a day strains a workers health, and should be voluntary and higher-paid. The new contract undermines this. By introducing "non-traditional" flexible schedules, the tentative contract means a number of clerks (50% in major facilities) who would normally have a basic schedule of five days at 8-hours a day would now be forced to work 10, 11, or 12 hours with no overtime pay based merely on working over 8 hours. Overtime would only kick in if the set hours for the weekly schedule were exceeded.

The contract says present full-time workers could be forced into these new "flexible schedule jobs" (Non-Traditional Full-Times, or NTFTs), only if they´re not less than 40 hours a week. *But actually, present full-time workers could also be forced to accept sub-40 hour weeks in order to escape continuing excessing.* Postmaster Donahue outlined his plans for us: "The flexible regular clerk came up, and the way it works is this. If you can be a 3 to 11 clerk working 5 days a week, and your new assignment gives you an opportunity to work in maybe one office for two days, another office for three days. As a clerk you may only be working 32 or 33 hours a week as part of your schedule." *You want to talk about wage cuts? Going from a 40-hour week to a 30-hour week is a 25% wage cut!!*

New career and PSE employees could be assigned to any NTFT position, even if it´s less than 40 hours a week. They could also be forced into jobs with split shifts. Management can change any position into an NTFT position as soon as the job becomes open. And controversies over the new flexible schedules would not be subject to the local grievance procedure.

Vote no! Get organized for struggle! ------------------------------------

This contract is a disaster for new and present employees. Having a major section of the workforce extremely underpaid and doing the same work as current career employees would fuel disunity among postal workers, making it harder to resist management attacks. New workers should have the same level of compensation as career present workers now have. A vote against the contract would reinforce solidarity among postal workers. Under the contract, all workers would suffer financially and flex schedules would destroy more and more workers´ livelihoods. Workers across the country are starting to see through this sellout contract; and for example, the Northeast Massachusetts District local has strongly called for a No vote. Vote "no" to protect all postal workers now and in the future!

But how can our just demands be met if the USPS is losing money? Actually, there are billions of dollars a year available if the postal income created by our labor was not robbed by unjust government raids on the postal budget. The APWU leaders know this, but by accepting massive worker concessions, they make us suffer and help let the budget-robbers off the hook. The other immediate cause of the postal budget crisis is the overall economic crisis caused by Wall St. and big business. They got trillions in bail-out money for their crimes. Postal workers have already been made to pay dearly, with 170,000 lost jobs, massive excessing, overwork, etc., but now management and the union leaders want to gouge the workers again with a sellout contract. It´s time for the workers to be bailed out, not the rich! Reject this contract and fight to have the postal budget balanced in a just way!

Voting "no" and defeating the contract doesn´t settle matters, however. Mediation and arbitration follow. Left to their own, management, arbitrators and the national union leaders are not likely to improve our contract much. It will be up to the rank and file to turn up the heat on them. Rank-and-file activists should form their own networks. Circulate anti-concessions leaflets, hold meetings, discuss what forms of struggle can be organized. The more we organize and protest, the more pressure will be put on management and the arbitrators to return with a better contract. Given former APWU president Burrus´ opposition to the contract, there may even be certain union officials who oppose it. But given their history of betrayal, the rank and file must keep the initiative in our own hands. Workers in Wisconsin rose up when under attack and attracted great public support. Postal workers need to do the same. And whatever the outcome of this struggle, the more the rank-and-file stands up, the better suited we will be for future battles.

Vote NO! Prepare for struggle! <>


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