Burrus: Congressional Intervention Would Interfere With Collective Bargaining

by APWU President William Burrus on Contracting Out Mail Delivery

My testimony last month [PDF] before the House Oversight and Reform Committee revealed differences of opinion between the APWU on the one hand and the other postal unions and management associations on the other, regarding the issue of congressional interference in collective bargaining.

The long-standing APWU position is that mandatory subjects of collective bargaining are best left to the parties for resolution, even when bargaining has not achieved the desired results. I believe the danger of Congress determining conditions of employment for postal employees far outweighs the possibility of short-term success in specific areas.

Having begun my postal career during the era when all postal matters were decided on Capitol Hill, I vividly recall congressional decisions that restrained our wages, benefits, and conditions of employment to the point where many postal employees actually qualified for Welfare. Requesting congressional re-intervention carries enormous risks and threatens all of the gains that we have made over the past 37 years.

The concept of petitioning Congress to declare that mail delivery can be performed only by career postal employees is much more complicated than it appears at first glance.

The first issue to be resolved is whether or not the ban should extend beyond delivery. Are there other postal functions that require limitations? Obviously, the APWU would make a valid argument on the numerous and varied activities that are best performed by career clerks, maintenance, or motor vehicle employees. But even within the single function of delivery, significant questions would have to be resolved.

If delivery by non-career employees is banned, does that include delivery to post office boxes? Is mail deposited in a lock box deserving of less government protection than mail delivered door-to-door? And if the answer to this question is in the affirmative, how does delivery to cluster boxes differ from box delivery? Apartment buildings and large commercial establishments also pose questions that would be open to varying interpretations.

These are issues best reserved for the parties who understand the nuances and distinctions. And, should bargaining fail, we can each make our case before a neutral arbitrator who has the authority to settle disputes.

Progress in negotiations on the central subject of subcontracting is never as rewarding as employees would like. As postal employees, we know that we are more trustworthy and more committed to serving the public than a casual workforce, and we know that we perform at a higher level. Career postal employees have made ours the best postal system in the world, and it is frustrating to witness an erosion in service due to the quality of the workforce.

But collective bargaining was never intended to guarantee specific results. Through our unions we are guaranteed the opportunity to continue to try.

Related Link :Harkin Inroduces Senate Bill to Outlaw Contracting Out