Attacks on Federal Workers APWU

(This article first appeared in the November/December 2018 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

By Industrial Relations Director Vance Zimmerman

Let me take a moment and wish each of you a happy and safe holiday season. No matter how you celebrate the holidays, I hope you all have an enjoyable time with your families and friends.

Recently our sisters and brothers who work for other federal agencies had their collective bargaining rights attacked. In a series of Executive Orders, President Trump forced agencies to re-write collective bargaining agreements under new guidelines.

In the new collective bargaining agreements, workers would not be allowed to perform on-the-clock representation. Union stewards and officers would be limited to small amounts of official time. Union stewards and officers would be required to be off-the-clock for all grievances, negotiations and meetings.

The orders called for the elimination of the right to file a grievance on discipline, like removals. Federal unions can no longer bargain over work rules, staffing, or schedules. Unions with dedicated union space inside agency buildings were issued eviction notices to force them to move out of the agency buildings. Finally, in one of his most insulting actions against federal workers, President Trump issued a call to freeze federal worker pay – all while he continues to brag about how much more money Americans are making today because of his policies.

Multiple unions sued and some of the orders were put on hold by the court. Even though the unions may have been victorious today, the White House has appealed the court decision and it is clear that war will be waged against the federal unions – and the postal unions.

The Executive Orders did not apply to the Postal Service because we have our bargaining rights under the Postal Reform Act. However, there are other ways the Presidential Administration is attacking our union. Calls for privatizing the Post Office are the most basic attack on us. Breaking up and selling off the Post Office to the highest corporate bidder would eliminate your contract because the collective bargaining agreement we have is with the Postal Service – not a new corporation. There would be no guarantee you get to keep your job at the new “Corporate Postal Service” and if you did, you wouldn’t have your current wage, retirement, annual leave, or many of the other benefits you enjoy today.

Attacks on federal workers and calls for post office privatization don’t just hurt the workers. When the APWU and the other federal unions negotiate contracts, we negotiate things that help the American people. When we negotiate good schedules or win the fight for proper staffing, we are ensuring our customers are cared for. When we negotiate good wages and benefits, it helps our customers because the workers feel better about what they do and feel justly compensated. The fight against privatization and the fight to protect federal unions is really the fight for the American people.

Lastly, please remember that you have the right to a safe work environment. You have the right to come to work and return to your families unharmed. Be mindful that any safety program the Postal Service has is voluntary. For example, the Safety Ambassador program is not a jointly agreed to program. Under Article 14 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, your union is the sole representative for the enforcement of safety rules and regulations and the Postal Service is required to cooperate with the APWU on safety. Your national safety officers have initiated a national dispute on this program. Our dispute is that the program was implemented unilaterally without negotiations with the union, that it is not implemented consistently, and hinders what local safety and health committees are tasked with. You are asked not to participate in this program and should be filing grievances as necessary. Should you have questions on the program, please contact your national safety and health officers.

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Major Victory For Expanded Postal Services APWU

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72-2018

07/23/2018On Wednesday, July 18, the APWU and our allies won a big victory by defeating an attempt to prohibit the Postal Service from expanding financial services. In a vote on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, an amendment to a government appropriation bill (H.R. 6147) offered by Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC) was rejected by a bipartisan vote of 212 to 201. The APWU greatly appreciates the bipartisan support from lawmakers who voted down this proposal.

In the short span of only two business days, APWU President Mark Dimondstein and the Legislative and Political Department launched a strategic campaign in coordination with our sister postal unions and other allies to defeat this stealth attack. “Make no mistake about it, this was an attack on our public Postal Service,” said President Dimondstein. “The defeat of this concerted effort to curtail financial and other innovative services is an important victory for those who believe that the Postal Service exists to serve the people of this country.”

The amendment would have prevented the Postal Service from using its existing legal authority to enhance its offering of basic financial services – including domestic electronic money transfers, bill payment services, expanded check cashing, and expanded international money transfers.

Not stopping there, it also preemptively banned future USPS innovations that have not already been approved by Congress. Earlier versions of the proposal even meddled with APWU collective bargaining, as it attempted to overturn the agreement reached in our last round of contract negotiations with the USPS to pursue expanded postal services.

The banking industry lobbied hard in favor of this amendment, joining with anti-government organizations like Americans for Tax Reform and the Heritage Foundation. These are the very groups that are determined to privatize our public Postal Service.

“This victory is an excellent example of what is possible through bipartisan outreach by the APWU to educate lawmakers of both parties about the importance of a robust public Postal Service,” said APWU Legislative and Political Director Judy Beard. “It also shows the importance of coalition building.”

The commitment of the National Association of Letter Carriers, National Postal Mail Handlers Union, and National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, as well as our allies in the Campaign for Postal Banking, the AFL-CIO, Americans for Financial Reform, and Take on Wall Street, won the day. “Only through the collective work of all our allies in the public interest, united in solidarity, could we defeat this attack,” Director Beard emphasized.

Standing up for robust postal services, Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), Ranking Member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, urged his colleagues to “oppose this effort to impose arbitrary limits on the Postal Service’s ability to innovate.”

Speaking on the House floor, Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA) urged their colleagues to vote “No” on the amendment. “The Postal Service,” said Connolly, “deserves better, our consumers deserve better, Postal Service customers deserve better, and we can do better.”

When Representative John Curtis (R-UT) – who was serving as Acting Chair at the time – called for a voice vote, it was clear the majority opposed the amendment. Despite this, however, he ruled that the amendment had been adopted.

Recognizing the strong bipartisan opposition to the amendment and that the Acting Chair had ruled incorrectly, Representative Kaptur demanded a recorded vote. When the votes were counted, she was vindicated as the House of Representatives rejected the amendment by a roll call of only 201 in favor and 212 opposed.

The Postal Service is in a unique position to provide basic, affordable, non-profit financial services via its existing infrastructure, as well as a host of attentional expanded services. These services provided by the USPS could help struggling families throughout the country achieve financial stability and strengthen the USPS mission to serve the public.

“Be heartened sisters and brothers, because this vote is testament to the support for our cause,” said President Dimondstein. “However, we have a ways to go. We must go forward and build on this victory to protect and enhance vibrant public postal services now – and for many generations to come.”

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APWU Meets With Federal Task Force Considering Changes to USPS

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06/08/2018

On Tuesday, June 6, APWU President Mark Dimondstein, joined by Legislative and Political Director Judy Beard, Manager of Negotiation Support and Special Projects Phil Tabbita, along with other APWU representatives, met with the White House Task Force on the Postal Service. The task force was presented with a series of union recommendations and supporting materials on how the USPS could improve services, become more financially stable, and continue to remain a treasured public institution offering universal service to all citizens, regardless of where they live or work.

President Trump created the task force In April, as APWU reported at that time. It is being led by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Jeff Pons and and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Mick Mulvaney. The President’s executive order charged the task force with evaluating and reporting on the operations and finances of the United States Postal Service, such as pricing, policies and the costs of the workforce. Its report, which is to contain legislative and executive proposals, is due by August 10.

The executive order is modeled after one President George W. Bush issued in 2002 and came after President Trump released a series of tweets critical of the U.S. Postal Service’s relationship with Amazon. Even more controversial than the Bush-era executive order, Trump said the task force should examine the obligation to provide universal service “in light of changes in technology, e-commerce, marketing practices and customer needs.”

“In our discussions with the task force we spoke some plain truths about what the U.S. Postal Service needs and what it doesn’t,” said Beard. “We also shared materials that we had developed in coordination with other postal unions.”

Among those plain truths:

  • The U.S. Postal Service’s unparalleled national network fulfills the Founders’ directive to bind the nation together, providing affordable, universal service unlike any private entity.
  • The U.S. Postal Service’s workforce represents the nation’s largest civilian employment of veterans, and our work enables a $1.4 trillion dollar mailing industry employing 7.5 million American workers.
  • The U.S. Postal Service operates without a dime of taxpayer money, but Washington’s political malpractice has put it in a financial bind – crushed by a scheme to pre-fund years of retiree healthcare benefits, a burden that no other agency or company must bear.
  • The U.S. Postal Service has already undergone dramatic restructuring since the Great Recession. The U.S. Postal Service has eliminated 200,000 career positions, closed or consolidated hundreds of mail processing facilities, dramatically slowed the mail with lowered service standards, and reduced the hours of operations at 13,000 primarily rural post offices (some as few as two hours a day). APWU emphasized to the task force that USPS managers have cut to the bone and the U.S. Postal Service and its workforce should not be cut further. APWU’s representatives called for a full restoration of service standards that were diminished in 2012.
  • The U.S. Postal Service cannot cut its way to profitability. However, by addressing the congressionally-manufactured prefunding crisis, setting appropriate postage rates, and properly accounting and investing postal funds, USPS can generate the necessary capital to fulfill its obligations, replace its aging vehicle fleet, and provide quality service to the American people.

APWU has joined with other postal unions in developing briefing materials and policy recommendations to present to the task force. While each postal union is meeting with the task force independently, collectively the American Postal Workers Union, National Association of Letter Carriers, National Postal Mail Handlers Union, and National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association represent more than half a million postal employees who are dedicated to providing affordable service to all Americans, no matter where they live.

As President Dimondstein stated in a recent guest commentary in The Boston Globe,  “Postal workers and millions and millions of customers certainly hope that the task force created by the executive order has as its starting point a sincere commitment to helping the Postal Service thrive. However, if the task force proves to be a smokescreen to promote the postal privatization agenda of the likes of the Heritage Foundation and Cato Institute and their billionaire benefactors’ efforts to turn the common good over to private profiteers, then postal workers will be on the front lines fighting back, united with our communities and the people of this country, to ensure a vibrant public postal service for many generations to come.”

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