March 23, 2011
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.