Burrus Update #13-2010, July 29, 2010
Competing Interests, Diverging Views
In many Updates and editorials on postal issues, I have criticized the influence of large mailers on the USPS — even while acknowledging that they provide much of the volume that makes it possible for the Postal Service to maintain its national network and provide middle-class employment to more than 600,000 Americans. I have frequently pointed out that the interests of these large mailers generally run counter to those of postal employees.
While some union leaders have joined forces with the mailers to achieve narrow legislative objectives, and others speak in favor of partnerships, I have counseled APWU members that the large mailers and postal workers have competing agendas.
A case in point involves the Postal Service’s recent proposal to raise the price of stamps. An association of large mailers, the Affordable Mail Alliance, vehemently opposes the rate hike and filed a protest with the Postal Regulatory Commission, which must consider the USPS proposal.
The mailers’ motion vividly exposes the lack of respect they have for postal employees and the collective bargaining process. A casual review of the document [PDF – see pages 50-62] reveals their callous desire to punish postal workers for the Postal Service’s financial difficulties — difficulties the mailers inadvertently fostered by promoting the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006. The PAEA imposed crippling financial obligations on the USPS — obligations that are responsible for the Postal Service’s current predicament. To compensate for their colossal mistake, the major mailers wish to penalize postal workers.
In lieu of an editorial describing my reaction to this vicious attack, I invite postal employees to read the motion and draw their own conclusions.
The Affordable Mail Alliance, along with other organizations representing large mailers, influences postal policy by lobbying and applying significant resources to shape legislation. They hope to set the tone for the USPS-APWU contract negotiations scheduled for later this year.
While the opinions of these mailers are not dispositive, it is important that postal workers and their unions understand the power they have on matters affecting postal employment. The opinions expressed in this filing are a frontal attack aimed at eliminating collective bargaining as the vehicle for establishing the terms of employment in the United States Postal Service.
The major mailers wish to amend the law so that the Postal Service would have the unilateral right to set wages and benefits, leaving employees with only one option: Accept it or quit. This is the model the large mailers use with their employees; as they generated billions of dollars in profits from worksharing alone, their employees had no vehicle to demand an appropriate share. It would be interesting to review the salaries of the executives in the companies that form the Alliance and compare them with the salaries of postal employees.
The Alliance asserts that postal wages, benefits, and conditions of employment constitute a pay “premium” of more than 33.9 percent over other workers. Their “analysis” is based on USPS figures that suggest that total postal “compensation,” which includes both wages and benefits, averages more than $80,000 per year.
To put the mailers’ conclusion in context, they believe the wages of bargaining unit employees should be cut by at least $18,000 per year, with corresponding reductions in healthcare, life insurance, leave, and other benefits! The reduction they suggest would represent a loss of approximately $700 each bi-weekly pay period.
Yet the July 26 edition of Business Mailers Review, a newsletter prepared by a representative of the mailers — the very mailers who take exception to the results of free collective bargaining — reported on a study that showed mailers reaped $10.7 billion in “profits” from workshare discounts in 2008 based upon the postal costs avoided. With tongue in cheek, I ask, if postal wages were reduced arbitrarily, would the mailers suggest that workshare discounts should be reduced to the arbitrarily set “cost-avoidance” rate?
For those members and observers who have not identified the sides in this struggle, on one side we have the employees who have organized into groups (unions) that are committed to playing by the rules of democracy, negotiating the terms of employment, and resorting to binding arbitration when voluntary agreement cannot be reached. On the other side are the mailers, whose profits are affected by postal employee wages and benefits. These mailers believe in capitalism and democracy — as long as “democracy” excludes the opportunity for workers to have a meaningful voice in their place of employment. The mailers would prefer to eliminate collective bargaining entirely, but if they are forced to accept the process they favor a law that would guarantee the outcome.
I encourage postal employees to closely examine the Alliance’s document to enhance their understanding of the forces engaged in this struggle. Please note that the Alliance analysis is not craft specific. The mailers’ efforts are not targeted to a specific group of postal employees, such as clerks, letter carriers, mail handlers, etc: Their goal is to quench their insatiable thirst for profits at the expense of all postal employees.
The indecent pay and bonuses many CEOs receive do not seem to bother the Alliance; however, they put each advance by working people under a microscope for after-the-fact comparison.