The American Postal Workers Union has an update on the status of buyout talks, only to say that there’s really nothing to say.
“I understand that there is great interest in this topic among some members, but it is simply not feasible or smart to conduct negotiations in public,” APWU President Cliff Guffey says in this week’s release on the union’s web site.
“Great interest” may be an understatement, based on the feedback that FedLine’s been hearing. Among some union members, frustration is also running high that two months after mail handlers got a $15,000 buyout offer, clerks are still waiting. (One reader wrote to inquire whether there’s a store near the APWU’s Washington headquarters that sells torches and pitchforks.)
Discussions with U.S. Postal Service management are continuing, Guffey says, adding that the “needs of APWU members are uppermost in our mind.”
“We will not be pressured into accepting an offer that is not in the best interests of our members.”
As FedLine has previously reported, the buyout issue has gotten entangled in a dispute over whether the Postal Service is fully living up to the terms of the contract signed last year. With the Postal Service eager to shed workers, the APWU apparently believes that withholding agreement on a buyout is one means of getting leverage.
It’s a strategy that the union’s national executive board has endorsed, former APWU President William Burrus writes on his blog. That statement was challenged by AWPU spokeswoman Sally Davidow, who called it “not accurate.”
“The executive board has not endorsed any such alleged strategy,” Davidow said.
Last year, Burrus opposed ratification of the existing contract and makes clear that he disagrees with the union’s current leadership on this issue as well. If management can’t save money one way, he writes, it will find another.
“For each dollar of savings not generated through the replacement of retiring employee with a new hire under the reduced wage scale it will be recovered through additional consolidations, subcontracting or other means of management induced efficiencies.”
[This post was revised on Aug. 6 to include Davidow comment.]
It’s no secret that the U.S. Postal Service is looking at shutting more than 3,200 post offices as part of a major downsizing initiative. Less known is that 20 privately run post offices are also on the chopping block, but in this case because of a labor agreement with the American Postal Workers Union.
Under its latest contract with the APWU signed last year, the Postal Service agreed to close 20 “contract postal units” (CPUs) or else insource the work “as soon as practicable.” Those units are in New York, Texas, Florida,Puerto Rico and several other states. Given that there are more than 3,000 contract postal units nationwide, it’s not clear why these were singled out, but several Republican members of Congress aren’t happy about it.
The 20 CPUs in question provide “handsome levels of revenue” to the Postal Service “in a more cost-effective manner than traditional post office facilities,” Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Steve Southerland, both of Florida, and John Carter and Ted Poe of Texas wrote in a letter earlier this month to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and APWU President Cliff Guffey. Besides employing more than two dozen people, the units generated an estimated $20 million in revenue last year and are “highly-trafficked businesses that provide their surrounding areas with unparalleled levels of customer service,” they added. The four lawmakers concluded by asking for a review and reconsideration of the decision to close them.
It should come as no surprise that the APWU would prefer to have the work done in-house by career postal workers. It’s not clear, though, whether this is a first-ever arrangement or has some precedent in previous contracts. FedLine’s attempts to get comment from the Postal Service and the APWU were unsuccessful.
So, how big a deal is the U.S. Postal Service’s freeze on closings of post offices and mail processing plants?
Less than you might think, perhaps.
No doubt, today’s abruptly announced moratorium was made under mounting political pressure from Capitol Hill Democrats. “Cave-in” was how Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Dennis Ross, R-Fla., described it in a news release.
But the long-term consequences for the Postal Service’s downsizing plans won’t necessarily be that pronounced. Last week, for example, a USPS spokeswoman told Federal Times that processing plant closings would start in April at the earliest. The five-month freeze would push that timeframe back only until May. As American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey stressed on the union’s web site, the freeze “is a temporary reprieve.”
And by getting in the way of the Postal Service’s cost-cutting agenda, members of Congress have put themselves on the line with an implied promise to come up with a better alternative. Or, to quote from a letter signed by 20 senators last week: “We believe it is very important to give Congress the opportunity to reform the Postal Service in a way that protects universal service while ensuring its financial viability for decades to come.”
But to state the obvious (a favorite pastime here in the nation’s capital), lawmakers have already had that opportunity and thus far failed to deliver. Don’t be too hard on them: Fixing an organization that’s losing almost $100 million per week would tax the savviest turnaround artist.
For the APWU and other postal unions, the answer is to let the Postal Service tap into as much as $75 billion in purported pension fund overpayments. Even when you discount the fact that the Government Accountability Office recently dismissed the idea that any erroneous overpayments occurred, a refund is not in the cards as long as Republicans control the House, which they will for at least another year. Short of some miraculously lucrative new business lines or Americans’ mass rediscovery of the continuing relevance of snail mail, it’s hard to imagine postal revenues rebounding any time soon.
Lawmakers may have thus put themselves in a box. If they can’t find out a way by May, they could have to concede that the Postal Service’s route—however distasteful for thousands of communities and USPS employees—is basically the only one they have.
In a letter released today, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., takes aim at a union’s claim that the U.S. Postal Service gets no taxpayer support.
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, concedes that the Postal Service no longer receives a direct government operating subsidy, but cites a 2007 report that the agency benefits from many “implicit subsidies” and “extra powers” worth several hundred millions of dollars a year. Those include federal, state and local income tax exemptions, Issa wrote, as well as the ability to borrow from the federal treasury at low interest rates.
The letter, dated Monday, is addressed to American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey. That was the same day the APWU began airing an ad on national TV cable channels asserting that its members’ work is “funded by solely by stamps and postage.”
As anyone following USPS issues knows, Issa and Guffey haven’t exactly been best buds of late, given that they have starkly different ideas about what’s needed to cure the Postal Service’s ills. Issa acknowledges those differences in his letter, but adds that “we must be clear about the underlying facts.
“I ask you not to engage in a campaign to mislead the American people.”
In an email, APWU spokeswoman Sally Davidow said the ad is accurate and “is intended to dispel the myth that the Postal Service is funded by tax dollars.”
The Federal Trade Commission report cited by Issa lists not only implicit subsidies for the Postal Service, but also added burdens, Davidow said, and concludes that the burdens exceed the subsidies. The union plans to formally respond to Issa in writing.
The tug-of-war over the U.S. Postal Service’s very uncertain future hits the nation’s airwaves today with the kickoff of an American Postal Workers Union ad campaign that will run on national cable channels for up to two months.
Contrary to what you might expect, given how testy the debate is becoming, the 30-second spot doesn’t bash anyone. Instead, it highlights the fact that the Postal Service generally operates without taxpayer support. While APWU members move millions of pounds of mail each day, the ad says, their work is “funded solely by stamps and postage.”
So what’s the point? In a release, APWU President Cliff Guffey describes a two-fold purpose. One is to help the union sign up new members, starting with an “organizing week” later this month. The other is to build support for congressional legislation that would let the Postal Service reclaim tens of billions of pension overpayments identified by the agency’s inspector general and an outside actuarial firm hired by the Postal Regulatory Commission.
The ad will run for one week on Fox, and about two months on CNN and MSNBC. In an email, APWU spokeswoman Sally Davidow declined to say how much the campaign is costing, but described it as “a substantial buy.” This isn’t the first time, incidentally, that the union—one of four that represents postal workers—has taken this approach. Most recently, Davidow said, the APWU ran ads in 2006 opposing the consolidation of some mail processing facilities.
The current leadership of the American Postal Workers Union is rushing to crank up support for a tentative contract announced last week with the U.S. Postal Service. But one member of the nation’s largest postal union has already made up his mind.
“I have been honored to have the opportunity to devote over 50 years of my professional life to improving conditions for postal employees and as a full dues-paying member and on behalf of future employees I would vote no,” former APWU President William Burrus wrote in an open letter posted on the web site, postalnewsblog.com
Burrus’ opposition centers around provisions that—by his calculations–would cost future USPS employees more than $8,000 per year each. Saying that she had not seen the letter, APWU spokeswoman Sally Davidow declined comment Monday both on its substance and on whether Burrus’ opposition could make it harder to persuade the APWU rank-and-file to ratify the new deal. In a brief phone interview, Burrus confirmed the letter’s authenticity, but declined further comment.
Announced March 14, the proposed 4-1/2 year contract has already gotten the unanimous blessings of the APWU’s national executive board and its rank-and-file bargaining advisory committee, according to the union’s web site. The actual ratification vote will be scheduled once the agreement is printed, Davidow said, and should come within the next two months.
Burrus, who retired late last year after nine years as the union’s president, has never been shy in the self-expression department. (He famously once referred to large mailers as “vermin.”) How much weight his opposition to the proposed contract will now carry with APWU members is unclear, but it certainly doesn’t make life any easier for his successor, Cliff Guffey.
It’s also typical of the tensions that flare when unions accept two-tier arrangements that favor the interests of existing members over those of future hires. In the case of the new Postal Service contract, for example, layoff protections would apply only to employees on the job as of Nov. 20 of last year, according to a summary released by the APWU. The tentative agreement would also mean lower starting salaries for new workers and keep them from earning the maximum now enjoyed by current employees, the summary indicates.
At the same time, the union did succeed in preserving across-the-board pay increases and cost-of-living adjustments, although there would be no COLA this year and the 2012 adjustment would be pushed back a year. Considering that the Postal Service lost a record $8.5 billion last year, that can be seen as no mean feat. Whether a majority of APWU members will see it that way, though, is probably anyone’s guess.
The U.S. Postal Service has shelved a proposal that “would have expanded its ability to subcontract rural routes to contract delivery service,” according to an announcement this week by the National Rural Letters Carriers’ Association. The decision “came after extensive discussions” between the NRLCA and Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, as well as other postal officials, according to the release on the union’s web site.
“We have tabled the issue while we are in the process of resolving a labor contract,” Postal Service spokesman Mark Saunders said via email, when asked for confirmation of the union’s claim.
Although Donahoe recently acknowledged that more subcontracting was an option, the exact contours of what the Postal Service wanted to do remain unclear. Neither the agency nor the union would release the written proposal, although the NRLCA was predictably concerned about the possible impact on its members.
The union, which represents about 115,000 career and non-career postal workers, is still talking to the Postal Service about a new contract, according to participants on both sides, despite an impasse declared more than two months ago.
Also in contract negotiations is the American Postal Workers Union. “I know that many of our members are eager to hear details about our exchanges,” APWU President Cliff Guffey said in a release today that described progress as slow. “Unfortunately, while talks are ongoing, it is not feasible to elaborate on specifics.”
Now here’s something you don’t hear every day from a leading organized labor figure: “We must shift the focus of the union away from acting as a grievance machine,” American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey says today in a release on the organization’s web site. “Leaders at all levels of the organization must get more involved in legislative activities and other union efforts.”
If labor-management relations at the U.S. Postal Service will likely never resemble a group hug, there’s an obvious reason for the APWU to re-prioritize: The world’s leading mail carrier is at risk of going broke and Congress will likely have to be involved in any rescue. At present, the Postal Service has to pay about $5.5 billion annually into a retiree health benefit fund and top officials say they don’t have the money to make the next installment, which is due in September.
“All national officers must set an example by assisting locals and state organizations in establishing better ties with congressional representatives,” Guffey says. That includes encouraging lawmakers to back bills that would strengthen the Postal Service without weakening workers’ rights.
The APWU’s national officers will be meeting in Atlanta early next month, the release adds. Among the agenda items: an update on the status of contract talks and discussion of various union programs.
A week-and-a-half after their old contract officially ended, the U.S. Postal Service and its largest union will keep talking a while longer in hopes of agreeing to a new one.
“We will be working late tonight and early tomorrow,” American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey said in a web release this afternoon. The two sides will continue negotiations until they either reach an agreement or decide that a deal is not possible, the release adds. In an e-mail, USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said only that “both parties have agreed to negotiate beyond today.”
This is the third extension of talks since the APWU’s previous four-year contract formally expired Nov. 20. The first extension ended Nov.23 while the second was set to expire today. The previous contract’s terms meanwhile remain in effect.
After an initial bargaining deadline passed Saturday, the U.S. Postal Service will keep talking to the American Postal Workers Union for at least another two days, but said that negotiations with the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association had reached an impasse, thereby potentially leaving it up to arbitration to decide the outcome, according to a USPS news release.
Contracts with both unions had been set to expire at midnight Saturday, but the Postal Service and the APWU agreed to an extension until noon Eastern Standard Time on Tuesday, the union said in its own release.
“We do not have a new contract, but we believe there is still potential to negotiate an agreement,” APWU President Cliff Guffey said in a statement. The NRLCA office was closed Sunday afternoon and no one there could immediately be reached for comment. Between them, the two unions represent some 324,000 workers, according to the Postal Service.
Arbitration was needed the last time the NRLCA’s contract was up for renewal, according to the Postal Service. In that case, a three-member arbitration panel set the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement in December 2007, more than a year after the preceding contract had expired, a news release said at the time.