Burrus defends his opposition to APWU tentative contract

From 21st Century Postal Worker:

March 23, 2011

APWU Members

As the former President and a continuing union member, I agreed to the posting of my previous open letter fully anticipating that responses would be both positive and negative. I do not engage in the many forms of electronic communications, other than those union members who have contacted me directly. I have not personally read the responses or shared my views on comments to my previous post and I respect those who agreed and those who disagreed. I did not solicit advance approval for the content of my letter because I reserve the same rights as all members to voice my opinion and reject any assumption of an ulterior motive. My posting was intended to serve as voice for future postal employees who will be negatively affected and will have no vote in the ratification.

It is anticipated that those who defend the tentative agreement would challenge the points of my letter to reject the conclusions, but the facts speak for themselves. Employees yet to be hired will be affected but they will not be provided the opportunity to engage in the ratification debate. No one will ask them if the contractual changes are equal to a 20% reduction in wages. Would a current member willingly accept a 20% wage reduction for the contractual changes? All members who say yes, please raise your hand.

While I have rounded the numbers in explaining the wage reductions, for those who demand specifics, I refer to the new starting salary of a Grade 3 Custodian ($25,657) as compared to the current starting salary of $33,793, a difference of $8.136 per year while serving in the initial step and in each subsequent step (19 Steps or 20 years). In 1970 we struck in part because it took 21 years to reach top Step. Assuming a 30 year career, without factoring overtime, holiday and other premium pay the total loss will equal more than $200.000. A more detailed comparison can be made by the union economist so I challenge any interested member to request an official estimate of salary reduction. How would your life have changed if your salary had been reduced by $8,000 per year, each year of your career?

It follows that a salary reduction of $8,000 per year will lead to a corresponding reduction of retirement annuity. Precise estimates of this reduction is likewise deferred to the professionals, but it can reasonably be assumed that if earnings are reduced by 24%, the retirement annuity will be affected accordingly and the annuity will be reduced proportionally each year. Assuming a working career of 30 years, followed by 25 years of retirement, one can reasonably assume that the total loss suffered by employees hired under the new contract will exceed $200,000 per employee.

A promise that negotiations in future years will address the significant wage reductions is hollow, intended only to mollify dissent. Additional entrance Steps were added to the salary scale over 10 years ago in the form of Steps AA and BB and they continue surviving five negotiations and continuing to date. The removal of the new entrance Steps of this tentative agreement would be added to those new Steps already in existence and their correction would generate pay increases equal to the reduction ($8,136) that would be disproportionally applied exclusively to employees within these Steps. Meaning that employees hired under previous contracts would not receive this increase that would be the largest in postal history. So those who support trading the wages of future employees for immediate contractual changes should dispense satisfying this injustice by promising to correct the travesty in the future. The elimination of the Step I and J ceilings faces the same hurdle. It ain’t going to happen. If it were so easy, why are all wage increases under this agreement that do not begin until 2012, equal 1% as compared to the approximate 20% increase necessary to eliminate the entrance or top steps in future years? If you truly believe that the Step I and J ceilings will be removed or that the entrance Steps will be modified, I have a bridge for sale looking for a buyer.

I understand the uncertainty felt by many employees. The economy is uncertain, the job market is weak and the Postal Service has suffered significant losses. This is not a good prescription for interest arbitration and I do not advocate placing the economic future of our members in the hands of a single individual. But a union that seeks guarantees and is unwilling to fight for what is right is not deserving of the trust of its members.

I will not pontificate about what I would have done or would do. I was not there during the closing days and was not exposed to the lengthy debates and exchanges after my retirement. My offer to share my experiences with the APWU negotiators was not responded to; therefore, I did not have the opportunity to consider their rationale or to expose them to a different view. I only know that the very basic concept of a union that I have lived and breathed for 50 years is contrary to this outcome.

The fact is that the decision is now in the hands of the membership, but in making that decision, I ask that you do it honestly. If you vote for ratification, do it with clear intent. Decide that in 2011, APWU, your union, is willing to trade the economic security of future generations to avoid continuing the struggle.

Let me be clear, I applaud the success of President Guffey and his team in achieving objectives that we have only dreamed about for the entire period of collective bargaining. The return of work, the elimination of mandatory overtime, significant limits on excessing and more are huge achievements; I tip my hat to their achievement. They should be applauded. Where we part company is that in the process, they traded tomorrow. A conscious decision has been made to sacrifice future generations for today. That simply is not my concept of a labor union. Negotiations are not trading this for that. The simple fact is that postal management was willing to trade its control in many areas in exchange for significant wage reductions. Perhaps in the future, COLA or No Lay Off for new employees can be exchanged for some immediate change.

I make no recommendation as to how each member should vote. I did not in my previous post and I do not at this time. I respect your decision but I ask that you be honest and consciously decide if you are willing to trade the ability of future postal employees to enjoy the same level of economic security that you have achieved on the backs of those who went before you. If your answer is yes, you should vote to ratify.

The conventional wisdom advances the theory that the creation of more jobs will result in additional prospective union members demands further review and analysis. Repeated public statements listed the union objectives as more jobs but peeling away the public relations purpose of such priorities as applied to the contractual changes one must conclude that low wage jobs are unlikely to result in union membership growth.

The tentative agreement includes new categories of bargaining unit employees including the conversion of casuals to NCAs, the return of outsourced work, reduction of 204bs and the opportunity to compete on a cost basis for contracted work. In combination these changes should lead to increased numbers of bargaining unit employees, but in an open shop environment this will not automatically convert to equal an numbers of union members.

The primary objective of postal employees upon employment is to maximize earnings to sustain or improve a preferred lifestyle. Every expense is compared against the earnings achieved through employment, including union dues that are optional and APWU dues that averages $50.00 per month ($600 per year) will consume a significant portion of net income.

The salary ranges of the new employee categories range from $12.00 per hour (NCAs) to $17.59 per hour for Grade 6 new employees. The APWU dues structure has evolved through negotiated salary increases leading to hourly wages ranging from $16.90 per hour as the lowest entrance wage for Grade 3 to $20.28 per hour for Grade 6 new employees.

These lower entrance amounts will lead to reduced allocation of earnings and union dues will likely be targeted.

For these new employees, the APWU annual union dues will consume almost two weeks net pay after required deductions for the NCAs and former contract employees; for newly hired career employees union dues will consume almost one week of net pay. This is in comparison to current newly hired Grade 3 employees who pay less than 4 hours per month in union dues with smaller proportional amounts for higher level employees. This net pay is after required deductions including federal, state and local taxes, Medicare, Social Security, health insurance if covered and retirement. Union dues are paid from the net balance.

The simple analysis is that it can be expected that the union will assume the burden of representation for large numbers of the new employees without corresponding increase in union membership on the basis of pure economics. Those newly hired employees who are convinced in orientation to join will revoke at the first opportunity while demanding equal representation. The REC Sites are a case in point even though the wages were far superior to those included in the tentative agreement.

Delegates to the union national conventions have discussed repeatedly the option of setting dues on the basis of income but have resoundly rejected any modification. And even if dues were set differently, total revenue would be seriously reduced through the attrition of highly paid employees who would be replaced by those lower paid whose dues would be reduced. Over time this dilemma will necessitate upward dues adjustments that would in the end be self defeating.

In Solidarity with all postal employees, past, present and future.

Bill Burrus

21st Century Postal Worker Exchange for Messages of General Union Business.

  • Dude

    “Negotiations are not trading this for that.” this is a direct quote…really i wonder what neotiations are…..

  • Vote No

    Thank You Bill

  • wow

    Quid pro quo = this for that = negotiations. WTF????

  • bobbag13

    we hab a two tier system when moe biller was president I dont recall you saying anything then and you was the the vp.
    New worker accept a job and only apply if they want it YOUR way is screw all the members who could end up losing their jobs THERE IS NO MONEY

  • Unforgiven

    if the contract is not ratified and if there were layoffs or worse, would there be any new employees/members in the future to even consider? and as pointed out, prior conditions were changed in later contracts and we will also have the option in the future to bargain for improved contract terms as the financial conditions of the USPS warrant….. but after you have retired and are collecting your pension, it’s a lot easier to overlook the uncertainty of continuing to have a job in the future. first we have to secure the current jobs and in the future we can renegotiate a better deal as conditions demand.

  • SoulMan

    I’m embarassed to be in a union filled with cowards unwilling to fight, both at the top and within the ranks. Cowardice is why the middle-class is doomed. Suckers. I’m getting out of this chickenfarm establishment first chance I get. Truly.

  • Tony M. in Alabama

    Another Monday morning quarterback. As a member, my vote will counter yours. Those old retired quarterbacks can sure talk a good game once they are in the press booth and off the playing field and not taking the hits anymore. Love you Bill, but it is time to let the new coaches do their job.

  • WTF!?!?

    “The primary objective of postal employees upon employment is to maximize earnings to sustain or improve a preferred lifestyle.”

    I don’t know about any of you or Mr. Burrus but I did not join the Postal Service for the money. If all the job is to you is a paycheck then it’s no wonder you are against this contract. This contract is about saving the Service that has been delivering America’s mail since 1775. There is and should be a lot of pride taken in that fact!

  • Ray T.

    I think you people are insane. I’ve worked at the PO for over twenty five years. They drive the dedication out of you in the first ninety days. I went to work there when the company I worked for closed. I had a mortgage and two kids. Did I go for the money? Damn right. The job still pays well. I do my job and would never delay mail but thats where my dedication stops. You may not like it but I don’t know too many people that “go over and above”.

  • Gerald Reid

    Mr. Burress. Please go away. For you to chime in and state that this Union is avoiding to continue the struggle is very alarming and disheartening. There is a continual struggle on the work room floor for stewards who will always struggle for the membership. There is always some sort of dissent that is injected there by non members, management and sometimes members themselves. You only add to this with pathetic comments like those in the article above. You chose to retire at a time that this Union needed leadership to bargain for us. You chose to walk away and let our current leadership fight it out. I think they did a wonderful job under these circumstances. Not only is the Republican Party fighting to make our contract null and void, but you choose to add to this insanity with articles like this. Once again, please go away. We appreciate all you did for us, but now we would appreciate it if you would enjoy the retirement that you earned and leave us in peace.

  • benny

    Mr Burress as i recall , you didn’t get to much for us in the last contract, and as i recall you thought that prepayments to the healthcare bill was a good idea when it was introduced. Go back to that Million Dollar home that we paid for, and go water your plants. Stay retired. I think we could have done a lot better..but i also think we could have done a lot worse. In this economic climate, they did what they believed best for us. We will vote and we may or may not pass this ratification, but we would like to to it on our own. If you want a say in any of this, i think there will be an election in another 3 years, until then…go water the plants.

  • disgusted

    I found nothing in this contract that I like.. I will be voting NO.. I never expected a raise and would’ve gladly not taken one.. We are not the problem.. The problem starts at the top and that is where all the changes need to be made.. Get rid of them.. Give us leaders that we can look up to and respect..
    Don’t vote yes out of fear, vote no and make them go back and get us a fair contract..

  • DECON

    DISGUSTED ARE YOU A PART OF MANAGEMENT OR SOMEONE WITH 45 YEARS~~~~

  • Lou

    He did nothing for us in the last contract? Step Level increases for all clerks and no layoff protection is nothing? Wake up. When this passes, and it will, it will begin the downfall of our Union. The no layoff remains, but only as long as 6day delivery stays with it or congress says that the Service is in dire need of layoffs. Plus, future dues will go exclusively to National, not one penny goes to Local. We will be representing more people with fewer resources. Thanks Guff.