I have read the justification/excuses for electing to support an agreement that transforms postal employment in a very negative way for existing and new employees far into the future and the reasons fail to pass the smell test. The reduction of wages in the staggering amount of more than $200,000 per employee and the conversion of full time assignments to part time with a new title of “non traditional” will dramatically change postal employment, and lead to a shift of $3.8 billion over the life of the agreement from the pay checks of APWU represented employees to USPS to use at its discretion. And instead of using this windfall to “save” the Postal Service it can and will be used for other nefarious purposes like increasing rate discounts for major mailers.
A simple fact, unless the retiree health care issue is resolved there is nothing the union can do to save the Postal Service short of working for free.
Because of the threat of more significant losses in arbitration, many employees believe and hope that the impact of the changes will be limited to the next generation of postal employees with modest impact in the immediate future. This is a false reading of the changes incorporated in the negotiated language.
Employees who believe that the major changes will be deferred until the future will be disappointed when they experience major workplace modifications within months of finalization of the ratification process. Computer scheduling will quickly realign the work centers to match employees to mail and the mix of full time with part time scheduling will be initiated expeditiously. Full time employees will have little choice except to re-bid their existing work assignments with many forced to accept schedules with less than 40 hours per week, resulting in significant pay reductions as the loss of scheduled work hours will add to the wage reductions.
Work Centers will have integrated scheduling with a mixture of NCAs, new hires under the reduced pay scale and existing full time employees, resulting in a single work center having employees earning three (3) different wages for performance of the exact same work.
You will also be disappointed to find that for current employees, the two year wage freeze will result in actual pay reductions. While you have been told that this contract will generate wage increases of 3.5% over the life of the agreement, in fact you will experience wage reductions.
Using the expiring contract as a guide of historic salary adjustments to protect buying power, salaries are increased in the range of 1% a year plus COLA. This deferral of salary adjustment represents a loss of 2% in salary and a projected 4% in COLA as inflation reflects the exceptional increases in gasoline prices. So after balancing the 3.5% increases back loaded in the tentative agreement against the losses of 6% (2% for historic wage increases and the expected 4% representing the loss of 4 COLAs) from the wage freezes in 2011 and 2012, existing employees will suffer wage losses in the range of 2.5% over the 4 year agreement. Instead of the advertised increase of 3.5%, in reality, each existing employee will actually suffer wage losses of 2.5% or more.
One will be able to monitor the actual dollar amount of the COLA losses in 2011 as the Mail Handlers and the Letter Carriers receive the COLA salary adjustments that are generated prior to the expiration of their existing contracts.
So for those employees who will make their decision on the basis of the monetary effect of the agreement, while new employees will suffer wage losses up to 30% (wage rate reductions and the absence of pay adjustments in 2011 and 2012), existing employees will likewise experience significant financial reductions (approximately 3.5% after balancing the 3.5% increases against the 7% in losses) over the life of the new agreement when the 2.5% wage loss is added to the increased contributions for health benefits.
These negative changes for existing employees and ‘new hires’ must be balanced against the uncertainties of arbitration and the question asked if the union can dictate the conditions when arbitration is less challenging. The previous national agreement was finalized in November 2006 and it was not possible at that time to accurately predict the circumstances that would be present at its expiration in 2010. The economist did not predict the severe recession beginning in 2008 and its negative impact on mail volume and USPS revenue. Who would have predicted the attack on collective bargaining in 2011? And what if the 2012 national elections results in the House, Senate and White House being controlled by anti-labor forces when the union returns to bargaining in 2015? These and numerous other negatives are possible and very likely, making any future arbitration equally as challenging.
When the union last bargained in 2006, the effect of Postal legislation requiring the pre-funding of future health care liabilities had not been implemented and its crippling effect on USPS finances had not yet been experienced. These and the other interim events had not been identified in 2006, and cannot be projected with any accuracy going forward. Those who make decisions based upon current external factors will discover that national events are not static and the future does not guarantee that at a given point circumstances and events will be more favorable. The decision on whether or not to arbitrate must always be limited to the present. Do the contractual provisions meet expectations? If not, fight.
Stuff happens: Anthrax in the mail; 9-11; the home mortgage debacle; wars; Congressional interference, and on and on. There are never excuses for the acceptance of unacceptable conditions for workers and deferring the fight to 2015 or later. There is no guarantee that the obstacles in 2015 will not be equal to or exceed those we presently face.
In this agreement, the union either believes that the reduction of wages in these unprecedented amounts and the elimination of full time jobs are in the interest of the members or it has an obligation to fight. We cannot predict the future so if the option is to fight, a union fights.
In union solidarity,
source: Burrus Journal