Union activists cannot conduct “business as usual,” APWU President Cliff Guffey told national officers at a meeting in Washington this week. With the Postal Service facing a financial crisis and union membership declining, APWU leaders must take the skills they have honed in the grievance procedure and apply them in the legislative arena and other areas of union activity, he said.
Guffey’s message took on a sense of urgency, as news reports were filled with stories about the battle public employees in Wisconsin are waging to protect their right to bargain.
“You’re all good at persuading people,” Guffey told the group of experienced arbitration advocates. “We need you to use your persuasive skills to get members of Congress to support efforts to put the Postal Service back on track.” National officers must join with local union activists to meet with legislators and convince them to support that goal, he said.
Legislative and Political Director Myke Reid presented a detailed report on the mandate in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA) that forces the USPS to pay more than $5 billion per year to pre-fund the healthcare benefits of future retirees. The report demonstrated that minus the requirement, the Postal Service would have accrued a surplus over the last four years. Instead, the USPS has experienced staggering losses and is expected to reach its statutory borrowing limit this fiscal year. Reid also discussed pending legislation to address the problem, as well as the political environment.
Activism in the legislative arena may be the most important, Guffey said, but national officers must support all of the union’s campaigns. “National officers must help build the union,” he said. When national representatives travel to local offices to handle arbitrations, they should visit the work floor and talk with rank-and-file members, he asserted. They should sign-up non-members, support Human Relations campaigns, encourage the formation of retiree chapters, and promote the APWU Health Plan. The meeting featured presentations by department heads outlining their work in those areas, as well as craft meetings
Arlene Holt-Baker, vice president of the AFL-CIO, addressed the gathering on Feb. 23, and talked about the significance of current events in Wisconsin. By standing up for their rights, the state’s public employees have focused the nation’s attention on the role unions play in protecting workers, she said. The survival of the labor movement is at stake, she said, adding, “We will not allow our movement to die on our watch!”
Union officers joined a lunch-time rally in support of Wisconsin’s public workers, one of more than 40 such events nationwide.