APWU Embraces Change, APWU President Declares
Calling the union’s current circumstances “the best of times, and the worst of times,” APWU President William Burrus outlined an ambitious agenda for the union’s future in a speech to the All-Craft Conference in Las Vegas on Sept. 30.
Urging conference participants to meet the daunting challenges facing the APWU — from the USPS financial crisis to upcoming contract negotiations and a shrinking workforce — Burrus asked members to draw strength from the union’s many achievements in recent decades and to recommit their efforts to the tasks that lay ahead.
“In the face of the worst recession in 70 years,” Burrus said, “we can be proud that the employees that we represent have been largely excluded from the turmoil faced by millions of American workers.
“Our timing could not have been better in gaining upgrades for every employee at least one grade, and in the Maintenance and Motor Vehicle crafts, two or three grades.
“We recently negotiated retirement and separation incentives for our members and for other postal employees.
“We helped elect a president who represents everything that’s good about our country — and we were there at the beginning.
“And all signs indicate that we will be successful in passing legislation that will remove the Postal Service from the brink of bankruptcy,” he said, referring to H.R. 22, a bill to remove an onerous mandate that requires the USPS “pre-fund” retiree healthcare, which drains billions of dollars a year from USPS finances. The legislation, he reported, will be passed without an amendment contained in a related bill, S. 1507, “which is intended to destroy postal collective bargaining.”
“We upgraded every employee just in time,” as a result of contract negotiations in 2006, he said, “because it would be impossible anytime in the near future.”
“We removed all PTFs in our larger offices just in time, before they were reduced to four hours per pay [period].
“And though it will be difficult to hold onto those achievements in future years, this is the opportunity for us to relish our accomplishments,” and to reflect on how far postal workers have come under AWPU representation.
Despite these and other gains he witnessed during his 53-year postal career, the union president cited challenges in the days ahead for the APWU: “unparalleled” excessing and reassignments; P&DC consolidations; station and branch closings; contracting-out; “continual craft jurisdiction disputes,” and “legislative interference in the collective bargaining process, as represented in S. 1507.”
In addition, he said, the 2010 contract negotiations will be held in the year following “the greatest financial loss in USPS history: $7 billion.”
“We also see declining mail volume,” he noted, adding that he and Postmaster General John Potter have debated the causes and solutions for the problem, a serious threat to postal jobs,
While the Postal Service blames much of the decline on the increased use of email and the Internet for personal and business communication, Burrus said, most of the decline is due to the severe economic downturn.
“To blame it on technology is to deny the future,” he argued. “It is to suggest that we should do things tomorrow the way they were done yesterday, because we refuse to move into the future.”
“So I reject the premise that the Internet and email are the cause of the loss of volume,” he said. “Ninety-three percent of postal revenues now come from advertising mail,” he said adding that is time for the USPS to acknowledge the fact, adapt, and increase its business.
“If we lost every electric bill,” he noted, “it would be less than one percent of our total volume. But with a downturn in the economy we lose 30 percent, because companies are not advertising.”
The USPS must change its mindset, Burrus said. It’s not about “waiting for someone to drop a letter in the box… We’ve got to generate the volume.”
Declining mail volume and the pressure it puts on the USPS finances is also driving USPS management’s increased use of unfair discipline as a means to fire workers or to encourage them to quit, Burrus noted. It is the union’s hope, he said, that the retirement separation incentive that the APWU recently won for workers will reduce management’s use of unfair discipline and reduce excessing.
The 2009 conference of Clerk, Maintenance, Motor Vehicle, and Support Services Division members began Sept. 30 and runs through Oct. 3, 2009, at the Hilton Hotel & Convention Center in Las Vegas, NV.
The conference will include numerous educational workshops and general business sessions where issues and resolutions will be discussed and voted on to shape the union’s goals.