My opposition to the new national agreement is well chronicled as I voiced my opinions about the significant changes that would be made to postal employment but the ratification process is now history and focus must be centered on its application and to the issues of the day. Contrary to the opinions of nonunion members, the decisions of the union do make a difference and sticking your head in the sand will not make them go away.
This contract was finalized at a time when forces beyond the collective bargaining arena are shaping the USPS’ future in ways far beyond the contractual restrictions. Negotiated provisions will be inapplicable to the resulting impact on workers and the American public. As I shared in my perspective “Will the Postal Service Survive” it will be the Congress of the United States that will write the final chapter governing postal employment and postal services.
Well intended efforts were undertaken by the union to initiate changes in contractual provisions providing additional protections to employees but they have been overtaken by events. Additional jobs was a worthy contractual goal but the total number of postal employees will be decided in a different forum and when the dust settles on consolidations and 5 day delivery, if enacted or not, there will be at a minimum 50,000 fewer jobs than existed prior to the Watershed agreement. Limits on overtime and excessing, if applied ten or twenty years ago would have been major achievements but this is the Postal Service of 2012 and beyond and those issues will be secondary to the issues of importance in the future. Attacks on the collective bargaining process; consolidations; the unexpected assault on seniority and the bombshell of the 2011 national agreement, reducing wages by up to 60% has yet to be fully appreciated as the hiring of new employees has been sporadic.
Focus is now turned to the hiring of PSEs and the spotty implementation of nontraditional schedules that will be more troublesome when combined with new entry level salaries and result in employees earning 50% or less than existing employees. These issues will pale in comparison to wages when a significant number of new employees are integrated in the work force. The urban centers of New York, Las Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and others where the cost of living is high will be particularly affected. At the point in time when the density of the union is changed to 40% or more of employees whose wages are determined by the new agreement, the dynamics of the 2011 agreement will shift dramatically with a more accurate perspective.
The struggle to progress will be difficult no matter the outcome of the Congressional final solution. The only encouraging fact is that when the dust settles, there will be a United States Postal Service. At the outset of the political struggle it was not absolute that there would not be serious efforts to privatize this government service but now it is clear that on the other side of Congressional interference there will be a United States Postal Service. I am not privy to the constant stream of information and political options, but the limited information available convinces me that the best vehicle with minimum damage is the Obama proposal to include Postal reform in the Super Committee and make the fight for 6 day delivery within that process.
At the very least, the fight will be among friends as opposed to continuing a fight with Issa and Ross who hold all the cards. HR 1531, while a preferable solution, must overcome significant procedural hurdles with the uncertain influence of Senators Carper and Collins over a final package.
Change is constant and should be anticipated when making game changing decisions. The decision to exchange future wages for jobs was the wrong call at the wrong time. In a perfect world, where conditions of the past are repeated in the future the changes made would truly have been revolutionary but stuff happens and in the real world we are victims of our decisions.