Vote 'no' on the tentative APWU contract!

(from Detroit Workers' Voice #62, Dec. 24, 2006,
reprinted in CV #39, Jan. 2007))

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. Postal clerks are presently voting on a tentative contract negotiated by national APWU leaders with postal management. This contract is a cheap, more-of-the-same contract. It guarantees that postal workers will continue to work more intensely as postal management continues to pile up billions in profits and bonuses for managers. Job security will continue to erode as management combines jobs, abolishes jobs and refuses to hire new help.

. APWU leaders are selling this contract to clerks as "the best we could do". They argue, "it could have been worse". This shows how far things have gone with APWU, when it never occurs to them that it could have been better. But to achieve something better might require some organization and agitation among the rank-and-file postal clerks. And this is beyond the scope of APWU leaders. They didn't use mass picketing or any other means to rally us for struggle and to expose management's lousy contract in public. Instead they focused on the APWU being a profitable business enterprise (see section on health concessions below).

. The APWU leaders also claim, "we couldn't get anything better from an arbitrator". True, the arbitrators are not in the workers' corner. But arbitrators can be influenced by a determined struggle. And so can postal management; if workers reject the tentative contract this would be a first step to pressure management to come up with something better.

Profits rocket,
management still picks our pocket!

. The financial health of the post office couldn't be better. The P.O. has made eight billion dollars in profits the last few years. First-class mail is declining, but not nearly as fast as was predicted when the internet age first began. Meanwhile business from parcels is rapidly growing, and bulk business mail is exploding. The new postal reform bill passed by Congress guarantees stability to postal finances, continuing the P.O.'s monopoly in first-class letter mail and guaranteeing postage rate increases to keep up with inflation. Given this situation, the APWU contract definitely could have been better. And it should have been better to make up for concessions APWU has made in previous contracts ­ the increased premiums for health care, the cut in shift differential pay, etc. But instead of trying to make up for past losses, APWU leaders negotiated another increase in health care premiums!

. Postal clerks should tell APWU to go back and try again. Vote "no" on the tentative contract and get organized for struggle.

Wage settlement: cheap, cheap, cheap

. The tentative contract will give just two raises in four years, one of 1. 3% and another of 1. 2%. That's a grand total of 2. 5% in four years. Big wow. This at a time when workers are faced with soaring gasoline prices, rising prices for cars and insurance, and increased payments for health care and education. The contract continues COLA payments, which is good, but COLA does not completely cover rising costs of living. COLA plus the small raises might just about cover the rising cost of living, but that's all.

. The contract also includes a raise in pay grade for all clerks, but this is a very small token of appreciation for the big jumps in productivity of the last few years. This raise will only be about 2% for most workers, while productivity has been jumping three and four times that much every year. Of course management attributes the productivity increases to "intelligent management", but postal clerks know better. As the work force dwindles through attrition, clerks are forced to do a combination of jobs, working more intensely than ever before. New automated machines sort the mail faster, but none of this could happen without clerks toiling like stevedores loading, extracting and dispatching the mail. Postal management loves the bonuses they get from increased productivity, but they don't want to give decent raises to the workers who actually get the mail out.

Health care concessions

. Then consider the concessions on health care premiums. Every year for the next four years the P. O. will cut back 1% of the contribution it makes to cover health care insurance. That's for postal clerks with every health insurance plan except APWU's own "consumer driven" plan; for this plan the P.O. will cover 95% of the premium cost. So what's going on? Management and the union are colluding to channel workers into APWU's ultra-cheap health care plan. APWU gets more insurance business while postal management gets workers into a cheap plan with low premium payments. And what do the workers get? Increased premiums if they have any other plan. And if they have the APWU "consumer driven" plan, they get high co-pays, deductibles, and major inconvenience.

. Notice that this increase in workers' premium payments will come on top of the large yearly increases in premium costs charged by the health plans themselves. This means four years from now workers may well pay hundreds of dollars or more per year for health care premiums. These yearly premium increases should be paid for by management, but instead the APWU leadership has agreed to let the P.O. cut its share of health care premiums.

Job insecurity

. Postal clerks are facing growing insecurity on the job. As automation takes hold, more and more jobs are being abolished. Clerks with regular bid jobs are reclassified as "unassigned regulars" with no job seniority, with changed shifts and days off. Workers with decades of seniority are being excessed, required to take physically demanding jobs or forced into early retirement. Limited-duty and light-duty workers are being harassed out of employment. Facilities are closing as management consolidates operations into larger sorting facilities. The work force is declining through attrition, and management is doing all it can to avoid hiring new career employees. All of this adds up to overwork, exhaustion, increased injuries and constant insecurity.

. What does the tentative contract say about all this? In a word, nothing. No limits are put on consolidation of facilities, no guarantees of employment levels are established for facilities or crafts. By its silence the contract gives management the go-ahead to continue its fierce productivity campaign complete with abolishing jobs, excessing, and overwork.

PTFs

. The only "plus" that APWU leaders can point to is the elimination, a year from now, of the PTF category at large facilities. PTFs at these facilities are supposed to be converted to regular and thus will gain some security. In the old days this would have meant they could become established in a regular bid job. But this no longer means much when bid jobs are being abolished right and left.

. Worse, the "PTF" category is retained in the tentative contract for smaller facilities, where huge numbers of clerks work. Present PTF's at smaller workplaces are not converted to regular. And any workers hired in the future for work at the smaller facilities will be classified as PTFs, and the same old problems of conversion will be repeated in the future. Any reduction in the PTF category is a good thing, but the APWU leaders are overselling this when they call it a "breakthrough".

Increased use of casuals (NTEs)

. Then, in a provision that further undermines the regular work force, APWU leaders agreed to an increase in the number of casuals (NTEs). The tentative contract allows the number of casuals to go up from 5. 9% to 6% of the national work force, and allows it to be 11% at particular facilities. And casuals will now be hired on a 360-day term instead of a 90-day term. This means more work will be taken over by temporary, low-wage workers with no rights and no union representation. You can be sure management will use this opening to try and cram as many part-time, temporary employees into the P.O. as they can to cut back the organized work force, to override job descriptions and limitations on overwork. Overall it's hard to see any pluses on job security in this tentative contract.

Prepare for struggle!

. Why should we have to put up with a cheap contract like this at a time when the P.O. is rolling in dough? Postal management is going ahead with their plans for automation and consolidation, eliminating jobs right and left and reducing the work force through attrition. What do we get out of it? More work and reduced benefits. It's not right. And like previous contracts, this one also prohibits our right to strike, which is the best guarantee we have of gaining significant improvements in wages and working conditions.

. Postal workers should take this opportunity to discuss among themselves the need for significant improvements in wages and benefits. We need organized discussion to focus the issues and develop opposition to another cheap lousy contract. The APWU officials are afraid to mobilize us, so it is up to us, the rank and file, to mobilize ourselves. Let's rally our coworkers to vote "No" on the contract. But even if the contract passes, we won't have wasted our time. Each time the rank and file begins to organize itself, we are putting ourselves in a better position to fight future struggles.


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Last modified: February 25, 2007.
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