This is an opinion by Don Cheney on why APWU members should think carefully before voting NO on Tentative Agreement.
In the past when the national officers of a postal union agreed to a tentative contract and the membership voted it down, the consequences were BAD. Arbitrators view such behavior as bad faith bargaining and don’t reward it unless others try the same thing.
The last postal union to attempt this was the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association in 2002. They were clobbered with the help of the APWU’s Goldberg arbitration award the year before. Former President William Burrus wrote about the Goldberg award in a 2007. It was mentioned again at the congressional hearing on April 5, 2011. Expect the Goldberg award to come up at every interest arbitration. Ignore it at your peril.
The 1978 interest arbitration award on COLA and Article 6 permanently weakened the former ironclad no-layoff provision, but kept our COLA uncapped. APWU President Emmett Andrews was beaten by Moe Biller in the National Election Of Officers two years later. Our wages and benefits have risen substantially since then and is now being used against us. By federal law, we are only entitled to comparable compensation with the private sector. To comply with the law APWU President Cliff Guffey made the decision to cut the pay and benefits of new hires in exchange for other non-economic gains like no mandatory overtime for people not on the Overtime Desired List (ODL). Non-Traditional Full-Time (NTFT) duty assignments of more than nine hours shall include a 3rd break (see the Tentative Agreement page 190). Numerous other gains were covered in the APWU briefings.
As President Burrus pointed out in 2007, this will be an important factor in future interest arbitrations for any postal bargaining unit. In 2001 the NRLCA membership voted down their proposed contract and got a WORSE one from an arbitrator in 2002 . The 2001 Goldberg award was cited five times . Ask any rural carrier how they like their new contract. The Goldberg award is the new reality in postal negotiations.
The decision of Arbitrator Stephen B. Goldberg for the 2000 Collective Bargaining Agreement provides a thorough analysis, and I recommend reading it carefully. His examination of the value of postal employment is enlightening. Of particular interest is Goldberg’s “Supplemental Opinion Dealing with Economic Issues,” issued in January 2002 [PDF], in which he analyzes the “Comparability Standard” for postal pay, as required by law.
I strongly recommend that every APWU representative read it carefully to appreciate how one of the nation’s most highly-respected arbitrators views postal employment.
At some point in the years ahead, when the union’s goals and management’s demands cannot be reconciled through negotiation, our Collective Bargaining Agreement will again be submitted to interest arbitration. It is important that union activists understand the analysis of our industry by arbitrators who could have substantial influence on the future of the postal workplace.
APWU members should think carefully about the Goldberg award and what happened to the rural carriers in 2002 before voting “No.” An arbitrator doesn’t reward bad faith bargaining. That’s a fact!
Skepticism is understandable. If you are still unhappy with this contract in three years, you can express your frustration by electing new negotiators. In the meantime give the new provisions of this contract a chance. You’re not going to get a better one, even if it is voted down.
It is always better for the parties to have the opportunity to mutually address the terms of their agreement and decide the terms for themselves. This consideration has particular relevance when, as in this proceeding, the parties have reached a tentative agreement through collective bargaining, and that tentative agreement has failed ratification by a narrow margin.
Rarely in interest arbitration does either party get all that it wants, and certainly neither party did here.