Burrus Update #18-2010, Oct. 25, 2010
More than half-way through the 90-day period established for contract negotiations, the APWU is becoming impatient with the pace of bargaining.
The union negotiating team is well aware that the Postal Service is experiencing serious financial difficulties. For that reason, we anticipated that bargaining would be difficult as we attempt to build on the advances negotiated in past years.
Yet as the Nov. 20 contract expiration approaches, I am increasingly disgusted by management’s refusal to get to the heart of the matter: Bargaining began on Sept. 1, and representatives for both sides have been meeting each week to explore issues of agreement. The APWU negotiating team is led by the President and Director of Industrial Relations, and includes the Executive Vice President and the Craft Directors.
As expected, USPS proposals have included efforts to maximize supervisory control of the workplace and reduce costs by removing previously negotiated contractual protections.
However, to date, management has not presented its proposals on the central contractual issues of wages, benefits, protection against layoffs, seniority, and workforce structure. When these proposals are presented, we expect them to be consistent with the propaganda we have heard so frequently in recent months: the falsehood that postal workers’ wages and benefits are responsible for the dire financial straits of the Postal Service.
To date, the negotiating meetings have consisted of formal presentations by the union and management, followed by questions regarding the justification for the requested changes. The APWU negotiating team has vigorously challenged management’s justifications for its negative proposals and has defended the union’s proposals by demonstrating how they would benefit the Postal Service and the employees we represent.
I have expressed my impatience with the speed of the bargaining process, exhorting management representatives to accelerate the process so that we can begin to engage in the serious give-and-take of bargaining. So far, the meetings have consisted exclusively of formalities: Real bargaining involves passionate feelings for positions taken.
The union cannot convert the process unilaterally, so I have requested that management negotiators conclude these mechanical exchanges and engage in the full range of activities necessary to achieve mutually agreeable provisions.
I am confident that there is common ground on a package of proposals yet to be identified, which can meet management’s expectations of cost reductions and employees’ determination to share the gains in productivity and efficiency. I reject the premise that the serious discussions necessary to identify the framework of an agreement should be deferred to the final stages of negotiations.
Management negotiators seem to believe delay will maximize the pressure on the union, because of the looming threat of arbitration. How wrong they are!
We will not be intimidated by threats or ultimatums. We are convinced that the union’s case for improved conditions for the employees who maintain the best postal system in the world at the cheapest rate is compelling. It is also consistent with the statutory obligation to maintain postal wages and benefits on a standard of comparability with the private sector.
As postal negotiators further reveal the details of their bargaining proposals, the union will evaluate our responses and continue our efforts to improve conditions for our members.
At this point in the process, I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic about the outcome of the negotiations. As the Nov. 20 deadline approaches, the union will re-establish the APWU Hot Line, so that interested members can follow the negotiations on a timely basis.