By: Donald L. Foley
Full member, retired
I’ve read the comments of former president Bill Burrus on the tentative Agreement. And it seems no great surprise he has criticized it. You may have heard the rumors I did that Brother Burrus thought he ought to have been kept on for contract negotiations after the end of his term of office and that he told the Executive Board that, should the contract go unresolved to arbitration, the Union should hire him with an appointment as our arbitrator for the panel. Instead, the new Executive Board did as it should – took upon itself the full weight of securing a new National Agreement. And it would seem, it has been successful. That Brother Burrus disagrees with one aspect of the economic package merely reflects the tunnel vision that dominated his involvement in contract negotiations during his tenure.
As I have suggested previously, the Union has hamstrung itself for one negotiation after another by pandering, to the near exclusion of all other matters, to the obvious desire of the members for pay raises. Not that there is anything wrong with pay raises. Everyone wants to earn more for what we do. I’ve defended the professional athletes’ enormous pay packages, because they have derived from the effort to force ownership to share the enormous profits derived from the exercise of those workers’ skills. But, when the APWU has focused so narrowly on pay raises, it has done so at the expense of a great many other pressing issues. For thirty years it should have been obvious that there were problems in the workplace that, though demanding of correction, went ignored when the contract was negotiated (or arbitrated) every few years.
And, while Brother Burrus would place himself in the company of Stu Filbey and other great leaders of this Union, contract reality shows stagnation in National Agreement negotiations for thirty years. The APWU National Agreement – originally negotiated by a team representing the joint efforts of all the great Unions/Craft organizations – was a work of art perhaps unmatched by anything in labor management negotiation of a first contract anywhere. It established rights and procedures to protect the bargaining unit that were reflective both of long-held labor principles and of what was then the thought that the federal government ought to act as a model employer. And it was perfected (though with some difficulties and some setbacks even then) in the next couple Agreements. Thus, the great contract under which hundreds of thousands of postal workers have worked and been protected was that created prior to 1980 – not by Brother Burrus or Brother Moe Biller, who first reached national office as the Biller-Burrus-Richards ticket in the 1980 elections. Since that time what dominated each successive contract negotiation was – how much more money are we going to get? And little attention was paid to our other issues.
Is it right that we have negotiated for future workers a less advantageous pay scale? For their long-term economic benefit, perhaps not; but on that point, all we can do is speculate. Consider that Burrus negotiated into the last National Agreement a transfer of jobs from career bargaining unit jobs to non-career, non-bargaining unit jobs; and consider that the last National Agreement did nothing to stem the persistent outflow of jobs from the Postal Service. How well did these factors of the last Agreement serve the interests of future postal workers – some of whom would never become career, some of whom would never even be postal workers? Not only does the new tentative Agreement eliminate the casual employment that Burrus helped to bolster, but it also creates a career path based on seniority for the new bargaining unit non-career assistant (NCA) workers. So, if one wanted to speculate about the cost to future workers, one would also have to speculate on such things as – how many more workers we will have; how many of those workers will be career instead of casual; how their pay scales may eventually be improved as this dismal economy regains its strength.
And, speaking of this economy, I cannot see any rational expectation that arbitration of this National Agreement could have accomplished a positive economic outcome, nor would it have achieved the bold initiatives we see in this Agreement. Additionally, there is simply no reason to suppose the economy will improve much any time soon. There are far too many factors in play, far too much damage has been done in the transfer of wealth to the wealthy, far too little political will exists for real job creation. In other words, the Union had to work with the hand we were dealt.
I fully expect I will have some good reason to offer specific criticism of some of the terms of this New Agreement – that seems evident from the highlights and talking points being presented. However, a full assessment of this Agreement cannot be made without having the opportunity to read and digest the entirety of it. Looking forward to that opportunity when the full tentative Agreement is published, let me urge every member to exercise due diligence and study what has been negotiated and then, VOTE.