Postal workers and postal service under attack

(Three articles based on the presentation at the Detroit Workers' Voice Discussion Group meeting of February 10, 2013)

The disastrous letter carriers' contract and how the union leaders praise it

To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
February 5, 2013
RE: Discussion Group meeting this Sunday

Join us this Sunday, 6 - 8  pm, February 10, 2013 to discuss the disastrous letter carriers contract and why the union leaders praise it.

The upcoming meeting of the Detroit Workers' Voice Discussion Group will feature a presentation by a retired letter carrier on the brutal attack on the wages and benefits of US postal workers contained in the new contract imposed by a federal arbitration board last month. The board's ruling came after contract negotiations broke down between the management of the US Postal Service (USPS) and the letter carriers union, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), which represents about 180,000 carriers. This settlement does not apply to the three other postal craft unions, but the conditions imposed are similar to those faced by the hundreds of thousands of other postal employees in these unions.

This disastrous settlement cuts entry-level wages for new, full-time employees by about 25%. It also establishes a new category of  temporary worker, "City Carrier Assistants", with even lower wages than the former category of "Transitional Employees". The contract provides for the number of temporary employees growing enormously, reaching as much as one-fifth of the workforce. And the present temporary employees won't automatically keep their jobs and be transferred into the new category of City Carrier Assistants.  If they are lucky enough to keep their jobs, they will see their already substandard wages drop six dollars an hour. Along with all this, workers will pay more for health insurance. These are just some of the hardships placed on the workforce.

Moreover, aside from the new contract, letter carriers are suffering in other ways as well.  Letter carrier jobs are disappearing at the rate of ten thousand a year as postal management carries out a plan to eventually eliminate a total of several hundred thousand postal jobs of all types. Service to the public is being slashed, which hurts the working class as a whole while eliminating postal jobs. And there are plans to make even deeper cuts in service by cutting mail delivery from six days a week to five, plans endorsed by Republicans and Democrats and President Obama.

Despite the outrageous nature of this new contract, the NALC union leadership is heaping praise upon it. This is nothing unusual for them. The NALC leadership, like nearly all the present-day union leaderships in this country, is more loyal to management than to the workers it is supposed to represent. The NALC higher-ups pretend this ruinous contract is vital to "save the post office", yet this contract is helping management carry out its plan of eliminating many full-time workers, closing down more and more local post offices, and lengthening mail delivery times. The NALC officials say  the deficit in the budget of the USPS isn't due to overpaying workers, yet they proclaim victory when wages are axed for the workforce as a whole.

Postal workers are being beaten down. But a lot are angry and trust neither management or their present union leaders. This is the sentiment that needs to be encouraged so that workers build rank-and-file groups and wage struggle against the onslaught of the USPS management, Congress, and Obama. <>

5-day mail delivery slashes jobs and public service

On February 6, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe announced that starting in August there will be no Saturday delivery of mail except for packages. It's estimated this will eliminate 25,000 jobs. Six days of work will now have to be done in five, intensifying the exploitation of the workforce. And service to the public will continue to decline.

Some in Congress may challenge the legality of Donahoe's move because in the past Congress has legislated the number of days mail is delivered. But Congress does not oppose Donahoe's basic goals. The Democrats mainly back a bill that would establish five-day delivery a couple of years from now. The Republicans have their own five-day bill. As for Obama, he announced support for five-day delivery in 2011. The only problem was that political bickering has prevented any of the bills from passing yet. So Donahue decided to start putting the bill's proposals into action on his own.

Five-day delivery is part of management's anti-worker onslaught supposedly necessary to solve the $16 billion postal budget deficit. This includes massive wage cuts for new workers and the elimination of 168,000 jobs since 2006. But these "cures" have nothing to do with the cause of the budget woes. The deficits are overwhelmingly the product of a Congressional bill passed in 2006 that required the post office to pre-fund retirement health benefits for the next 75 in a mere 10 years, something unheard of in private business and government agencies. Were it not for the exorbitant pre- funding requirements the present crisis would not exist.

Management itself has opposed the pre-funding of health benefits, but this does not place them on the workers side. In the six years prior to the present crisis for example, about 80,000 career jobs were cut as management's way of avoiding budget problems. And comprehensive plans for future massive attacks on workers were developed. Management may not like having to cover the expenses imposed by the heath care pre-funding. But, as always, it demands the workers bear the burden the crisis.

Postal workers are being run over time after time, and the strategy of the leadership of the postal unions has proved completely ineffective in stopping this. Yes, the union leaders sometimes have snappy criticisms against management. But they collaborate with management. Thus, when new contracts with management help the USPS decimate the workforce, the main union officials hide the setbacks or justify them. Insofar as there is struggle against the USPS bosses, it is within strict limits. Organizing the rank and file for struggles within the postal facilities is avoided. Public actions of any kind are rare. Militant action that would really press management is off limits. The union leaders do not even try to get basic union rights like the right to strike.

Instead of reliance on the workers own actions they are told that salvation will come with the election of the Democrats. Workers are told to give money and campaign for these so-called "union friendly" politicians. And in the end, these same politicians sell the workers down the river. Is it any wonder management is slaughtering the workers!

The survival of the workers depends on taking up the course of class struggle, not collaboration. This will not spring up instantly, but now is the time to begin organizing in this direction. Rather than rely on the union leaders to give up their sellout policy, rank-and-file workers must see they themselves are the only ones they can rely upon. What sorts of things can be done?

Networks of workers can get in touch to form workplace groups. Connections between such groups can develop. By way of these groups, the rank and file can express their own views and decide what course of action is appropriate. Their views can be spread via leaflets, social media, etc. not only in the post office, but to other workers and the community. By these means management crimes and union leader sellouts can be exposed.

Based on the means and analysis of rank-and-file groups, protests inside and outside can be developed. The degree of militancy can be determined not by arbitrary rules, but by the judgment and willingness of the participants. Whenever the union officials hold a picket, the rank-and-file groups can take the opportunity to march with their own slogans and raise their own views. The picket can only be improved by this, and it will provide another opportunity to reach coworkers with your message.
    The above are just a few ideas of what the beginnings of forming a fighting alternative to the union strategy can look like. Presently only a few places have even a weak version of this. Nevertheless, the first steps toward independent rank-and-file organization are the way forward. They are unlikely to reverse the overall management policy at this point, but they may help determine how more particular or local battles go. But even small victories will give rank-and-file groups more credence. Management attacks and union leader sellouts will continue to push workers toward a real alternative. From this mixture, the future class struggles will be born, giving a powerful reply to management's efforts to ruin the workers.<>

NALC leaders hail anti-worker contract arbitration ruling disaster

After failed negotiation attempts, on January 10 an arbitration board issued a four-and-a-half year collective bargaining settlement between post office management (USPS) and the letter carriers union, the NALC. The settlement is a serious step back for present postal workers, and a betrayal of future employees. But what is the president of the NALC, Frederic Rolando, saying? The day after the knife was stuck in the workers' backs he says "the process worked as intended" and "this agreement rewards city carriers."

Let's take a look at these "rewards."

Massive pay cuts for new career letter carriers

Rolando brags that this settlement has "no two-tier pay scale" for career carriers. Evidently Rolando is hoping no one reads his own January 11 statement or the settlement itself. Rolando states "the award lowered the entry wage for new career letter carriers" and "created a new step progression."  That's the definition of a new pay scale! New career carriers initial wages will be over 20% lower than those in the old contract, roughly $9,000/yr. The new career letter carrier wages will slowly creep forward toward the previous wages over 12.4 years, only becoming roughly equal at the point where present carrier wages have attained their top incremental step. When a person outside the post office applies to be a letter carrier, they won't even do so as a new lower-wage career worker, but still worse off temporary labor that one day may be elevated to a career job.

Giant leap in "cheap" temporary labor

The settlement would create a new temporary labor force called City Carrier Assistants (CCAs) which expands non-career temporary labor (formerly the TEs: Transitional Employees) from the previous limit of 3.5% to 15% or even almost 20% depending on whether the post office attempts various new ventures. These employees do the same tasks as career employees but would be hired only for 360 day periods. Whether they get rehired after that and how many hours of work they get during the 360 day is, with minor restrictions, solely in management's hands. The only sure thing is their wages, benefits and rights stink when measured against what they need to have a stable, if modest existence.

Those hired as CCAs who were not previously postal workers start at $15/hr., rising by a barely noticeable amount by the settlement's end. Pensions, health benefits, and union rights are limited or non-existent. Yet a number of postal workers are under the impression that the CCA status means significant progress for former TEs. Let's see.

The scandalous treatment of TEs

If a TE becomes a CCA the TE suffers a big cut in wages, from $22.15/hr. to $16.71/hr. That $16.71 is somewhat better than the $15/hr. other CCAs get. But it means ex-TEs will have their wages cut by about 25%. That's a damaging blow to TEs, who may have worked a considerable number of years and now won't be able to cover bills they used to cover with their former wage.

Some say that the huge wage cut is OK though because under the settlement, career jobs have to filled by CCAs so there's an easy path to becoming a career employee (even if it's the new second-class version of a career job). But the path from being a TE to a CCA and then to a career employee has serious obstacles. There will be no more TEs, but TEs are not guaranteed to become CCAs. The TE can't qualify as a CCA until they take a letter carrier test. This is not a test where years of doing a letter carrier job will be of any use, but a challenging test that a good number of applicants have always failed. Failure means the former TE has no job.

What if you pass the test? You may get time working, you may not. Your lower wages may ruin you, or maybe you can hang on. How long will a CCA have to wait before they become a career employee? There's no way of knowing, but it's likely to be many years. How many career jobs openings will there be? Management is feverishly cutting them, reducing them by about 40,000 from 2007 to 2011. It's not completely clear at this point, but the order in which CCAs fill open career positions may be determined by how long they've been postal employees, which will likely give some advantage to CCAs who were formerly TEs.

Present career carriers not spared

Present career carriers may feel bad that new carriers will be screwed, but may think that won't affect them. Wrong. The more management, the big corporate mailers, and the arbitration boards see career jobs occupied by lower- paid workers and still worse off CCAs, the more they will press that all career workers get lower pay and benefits.

But what of the other "rewards" for present career workers? The wages and COLAs are miniscule. If you add them up you'd be lucky to find any increase. Whatever little the wages increase, they will most likely seem like nothing compared to rising health care costs. During the agreement, the USPS will reduce its share of health premium payments from 80% to 76% for present career workers and for new career workers, the USPS share begins at 77% and ends at 76%. This results in hundreds or thousands of dollars increased costs for career workers.

Job cuts and overwork

The big issues of job cuts and overwork are, shamefully, not even a topic of contract settlements. Layoffs have yet to happen, but the USPS predicts that 20-25,000 postal workers in all crafts will leave this year. Management prefers eliminating a job, rather than filling it. The workload remains, but done by a rapidly declining workforce. The already strained workers are pushed harder and harder. Serious and long-term injuries multiply. Besides that public service suffers and the unemployment rate rises.

Union leadership sellouts and rank-and-file resistance

Letter carriers have been run over by the USPS management just like their cohorts in the other crafts. Rather than declare how outrageous the settlement was, they sing its praises. The union leadership doesn't care how much they have to deceive the rank and file. They make speeches declaring that the postal budget deficit isn't due to the wages of the workers. Yet the proclaim victory when wages are cut 25% and a fifth of the workforce will be so-called "assistants" with pitiful hourly wages and no guarantee of work hours. They shout "Save the Post Office", but for them this slogan only means support for the massive elimination of career workers, something which will result in closing post offices, reducing their hours of operation, and lengthening mail delivery times. The arbiter made the ruling, but only a leadership of sellouts could justify it.

Enough! Postal workers have been beaten down. But a lot are getting angry and trust neither management or their union leaders. This sentiment should be encouraged. It's time for ordinary workers to begin organizing themselves. The long, hard road to developing real worker resistance should begin now! <>

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Last changed on February 14, 2013.