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Debby Szeredy
Executive Vice President

Telephone: 202-842-4250

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Contract Negotiations:
Fighting to Protect Our Future

Greg Bell
Executive Vice President

(This article appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

I would like to thank the members of the APWU for electing me the Executive Vice President of the American Postal Workers Union. It is truly an honor. Thank you to every member who cast a ballot.

Unfortunately, the low percentage of members who chose to exercise their right to vote was disappointing. If our union election reflects postal workers’ participation in the congressional elections, we will continue to have major problems.

We are determined to protect our hard-won wages, jobs, and benefits, and to obtain a fair and equitable contract.

Voting and participating must be a top priority — especially now, when we are facing such tough challenges: contract negotiations, massive excessing, plant consolidations, and USPS plans to close stations and branches. At the same time, legislative proposals circulating on Capitol Hill could have a profound effect on our jobs: Some would go a long way toward addressing the Postal Service’s financial difficulties, but others would weaken the union in future bargaining, give the Postal Service greater freedom to close post offices, and reduce service.

The active participation of our members, including exercising the right to vote in every election, is essential to our union’s continued success and survival. Voting is the most direct way that individuals can influence the decision-making process.

Now that the union election is over, it is more critical than ever that we come together, united in our common struggle. As Executive Vice President, I look forward to assisting President Cliff Guffey in leading the union. I also look forward to continuing to work as a team with our national, state and local leaders to promote unity within our ranks. I promise that I will continue to keep the needs and problems of our members at the forefront of my agenda.

Contract Negotiations

As expected, the Postal Service is exploiting the nation’s uncertain economic situation and its own financial difficulties to demand concessions in contract negotiations. As we go to press, a month before the contract expires on Nov. 20, the USPS has submitted very few formal proposals — but management has made clear that its wage proposals and demands for “greater workforce flexibility” will be “unpleasant.”

The Postal Service’s stated objective in this round of negotiations is to control costs and to promote the efficiency of the Postal Service.

Returning work to the bargaining unit would enhance job security for APWU members and would improve the efficiency of the Postal Service.

However, management fails to note that the Postal Service has already implemented significant cost-control measures that have primarily affected APWU bargaining unit employees: In the last two to three years 100,000 jobs have been eliminated – most of them from the crafts represented by the APWU — and widespread excessing has disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of our members and their families. Management’s plans to consolidate mail processing operations and to close stations and branches also would have a disproportionate effect on our ranks.

Our focus is on jobs and job security — retaining our work, returning work that has been subcontracted, and ensuring that work is assigned to members of our bargaining unit. This would do more than enhance job security for APWU members: It would improve the efficiency of the Postal Service.

We are determined to protect our hard-won wages, jobs, and benefits, and to obtain a fair and equitable contract of behalf of the members we represent.

The Financial Predicament

The APWU recognizes the Postal Service’s financial predicament, but unfortunately, the media and anti-labor legislators — especially those who seek to privatize the Postal Service and reduce postal workers’ wages and benefits — continue to misrepresent the main causes of the Postal Service’s deficit.

Instead of encouraging the USPS to cut our benefits, our wages, and our jobs, Congress must realize that a major cause of the Postal Service’s financial situation is the requirement to pre-fund future retiree healthcare benefits, a burden that no other government agency or private company bears.

The truth is that the pre-funding requirement, at a cost of more than $5 billion annually for 10 years, is the major cause of the USPS deficit. The Postal Service’s overpayment to the Civil Service Retirement System by $50 billion to $75 billion due to a flawed funding formula is another major factor.

A recent report by the USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded that the Postal Service is entitled to refunds for past overpayments and relief from future liabilities in the astounding amount of $142.4 billion. Of course, recovering the overpayments and reducing the liabilities would require congressional action.

Mismanagement Costs Millions

At the same time that management makes demands on us — including cutting our jobs and eliminating bargaining unit work — recent OIG reports have found that the Postal Service wastes millions of dollars.

Last year, the Postal Service reported that mail volume and revenue increased as a result of the 2009 “Summer Sale,” which gave postage discounts to large mailers. However, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) concluded that the methods used by the USPS to calculate the alleged increases were misleading. The Postal Service provided $67.8 million in rebates and reported that the Summer Sale increased net revenue by $24.1 million, but the PRC found that it caused a loss of $39.6 million in Postal Service revenue.

It should be noted that a postal official testified before the commission that the benefits gained from conducting incentive programs like the Summer Sale outweigh the programs’ potential financial uncertainties. I guess that’s easy for him to say: The money isn’t coming out of his pocket.

As another example, Postal Service Headquarters is responsible for managing all aspects of the Mail Transportation Equipment (MTE) program, and the Postal Service’s eight geographical Area offices are responsible for ensuring compliance with all aspects of the policy at the field level. It is estimated that the Postal Service spent approximately $688 million on mail transportation equipment over the past 12 years.

The OIG reported that if comprehensive controls over equipment had been in place, the Postal Service could have avoided spending an estimated $29 million for MTE in Fiscal Years 2008 and 2009. In addition, the OIG found, if comprehensive controls were established, the Postal Service could better ensure that only needed MTE is purchased in the future. Further, OIG estimated that approximately $897 million in MTE assets are at risk of loss, theft, and misuse because of the lack of controls. These conditions also present a potential danger to public safety and security, and reflect poorly on the Postal Service’s public image, the OIG concluded.

Finally, the USPS has paid millions of dollars for contract violations: At least $250 million in 2008 and $179 million in 2009. Managing and controlling costs is within the Postal Service’s reach if management would simply stop violating our contract, and avoid or limit unnecessary costs and liabilities. We cannot allow the USPS to continue to slash our workforce — under the guise of “cutting costs” — when they have been so reckless in their spending.

The Postal Service must correct their financial mismanagement; legislation must be passed to end the USPS’ prefunding obligation, and the billions of dollars that were overpaid must be recovered. The USPS must find other ways to balance its budget than on the backs of APWU members.

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