Union Finances Dominate Debate;
Convention Remains Biennial Event
2004 Convention Bulletin #3, August 26, 2004 | PDF
In a day dominated by discussion of the APWU financial situation, delegates to the 2004 national convention rejected several resolutions that would have increased revenues by raising members’ dues, as well as a proposal to decrease the frequency of the convention itself.
The measure to extend the time between conventions from two years to three was defeated by a voice vote after lengthy debate. The proposal was backed by the union leadership as a means to safeguard the financial stability of the union.
“This is our convention,” said Moe Lepore, president of the Boston Metro Area Local. “The national conventions are a two-year number for many reasons. Despite the camaraderie of getting together… we need to get together so we can interact and face the concerns that go on in this union every day.”
“The national convention is the only time that we as members have to have our voices heard concerning the business at hand,” said Lloyd Rollins of the Western Colorado Area Local. “If we go to three years, it has the net effect of reducing our voice. Let’s start with reducing expenses without reducing our voice.”
Mike Gunter, a member of the Constitution Committee that concurred with holding the gathering every three years, spoke in favor of the resolution. “People say this is going to kill the democratic process,” he said, “But there are locals that aren’t even represented here today because they don’t have the funds or the wherewithal to get here.
“You have an opportunity to make a difference, an obligation to protect the people back home.”
The votes followed extensive presentations about the union’s financial situation by the Convention Finance Committee and Secretary-Treasurer Terry Stapleton.
Next, a resolution that would have reinstated automatic dues increases on COLA raises was rejected in a teller count. A resolution calling for an increase in dues of 25 cents per member per period also was defeated in a teller vote.
Constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority, and just under 60 percent of the delegates voted in favor of the resolutions made by the Charlotte (NC) Area Local and the Washington State APWU. The union’s national leaders opposed the dues increases.
The COLA measure could have meant three dues hikes a year as opposed to one.
“It’s ironic that the proposal to increase dues came from local and state organizations,” said Philadelphia Area Local President Art Doherty, who opposed the increase. “Headquarters has acted responsibly by cutting expenses since the last convention. Dues increases can be self-defeating,” he said, “because every time we raise dues, some members drop out.”
But John E. Sanders, of the Southern Oregon Area Local, said he favored the dues increase, because it was necessary to provide quality representation.
Resolution No. 5, which would extend the term of national union officers from three years to four, is expected to be considered by the convention on Thursday.
Convention Votes to Give Retirees
Greater Opportunity to Stay Active
Delegates to the APWU 17th Biennial National Convention voted Wednesday to offer retired union members an additional opportunity to participate fully in the union they helped to build.
The first constitutional amendment adopted by the 2004 convention will give retirees the option of maintaining full membership in the national union without requiring that they retain membership in their former local.
Retirees who chose to exercise this option will be afforded the right to vote for national union officers, “in accordance with the existing provisions” of the constitution.
Securing voting rights has been a longstanding goal of retirees who remain active in union affairs.
Retired APWU members who make this choice would be required to pay $24 to the APWU Retirees Department, plus the national portion of union dues. This would create a third category for retired union members: Retirees may continue to retain membership only in the Retiree Department for $24 per year; they also may retain full membership by paying both national and local dues.
“It’s a great day,” said APWU Retirees Department Director John R. Smith.
“The convention has drawn us closer to the family. The retirees are the parents of this organization, and it was due time to give them their proper respect … The individuals that built this great union have now been bound to the family.”
Steve Lysaght, president of the East Bay (CA) Area Local and a member of the Constitution Committee, was among those urging delegates to support the measure. “We must never forget those who brought us to this place and time – they are the retirees.
“If we adopt this resolution, we will be sending a message that we have not forgotten them.”
The resolution would offer the opportunity to approximately 40,000 retired APWU members.
Financial Reports Spell Out the Tough Decisions
Telling delegates that “we must be prepared to make difficult choices,” Finance Committee Chairman Paul Delaine outlined several recommendations to improve the union’s financial outlook.
The union’s financial strength has increased due to stringent budget controls by the national leadership, he said, but the APWU still faces an uphill battle. “The marked turnaround from deficit spending to being in the black was a collective effort,” he said. “But all indications are that our membership will continue to decline.”
More emphasis must be placed on recruiting 70,000 non-members, he said, and the union must market the APWU Health Plan as a means of increasing revenue. In addition, he urged delegates to consider dues increases on cost-of-living adjustments.
Secretary-Treasurer Terry Stapleton discussed plans to lower expenses and increase revenues. In addition to proposals to extend the length of time between conventions and to increase the term of national officers, several other efforts that do not require changes to the union’s constitution are in the works.
The national union has cut its staff, Stapleton reported, and is exploring the use of remote video conferencing technology that would allow the union to reduce the travel cost associated with training. The APWU also is taking steps to maximize rental income at its headquarters in Washington, DC, and at its health plan office in Silver Spring, MD, he said.
The key to maintaining the union’s financial stability, Stapleton said, is “growing the membership.” The union’s membership has remained constant at approximately 75 percent, he noted. If the membership increased by 5,000 it would generate $972,000 in additional revenue at the national level, and locals would share $1.9 million in added income.
When asked by a delegate if deficit spending by the union was a sin, Stapleton responded, “That’s for the delegates here to decide. … It may not be a sin. It’s not one of the 10 things I saw listed in the Bible, but I’ll tell you what it is: It’s wrong. It’s irresponsible.”
SEIU, AFSCME Presidents Stress Need
For Increased Organizing, Political Action
Underscoring a theme of inter-union solidarity, the presidents of two of America’s largest unions helped kick off the APWU convention on Monday with a pair of rousing speeches emphasizing the importance of organizing and political activism.
Andrew L. Stern, president of the 1.7-million member Service Employees International Union (SEIU), reminded the delegates that strong organizing efforts are the only way to help reverse the alarming trends confronting working families.
Thirty years ago, big employers like General Motors provided “union jobs, good jobs you could raise family on,” Stern said. “But now Wal-Mart is the largest employer in America. A Wal-Mart job is a crappy job. You need two or three Wal-Mart jobs to raise a family. Wal-Mart jobs have no real benefits, they have no security to retire on.”
“Income is stagnating or declining for 60 percent of American families,” he said. “We need to bring back union jobs. If we are going to change America, we’ve got to organize again. We’ve got to grow stronger again.”
Applauding the APWU for its high rate of organized workers, he said it’s up to the more successful unions to lead the way. “If not us, then who? And if not now, then when?
“If we’re going to change America, we’ve got to go back to the days of General Motors, when union wages brought everyone up. That’s the America I want to live in. That’s the America we’re going to build.”
Firing a broadside at the administration whose labor and economic policies have brought us to this point, Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), called for a dedicated union effort to unseat President Bush.
Noting that many workers had lost the right to overtime pay that very morning, he told delegates, “Today, sisters and brothers, four million Americans who had overtime yesterday no longer have it [because of] a regulation written by Labor Secretary Chao.”
“Let’s face it,” he said, “we can’t afford another day, much less another four years of this anti-worker, anti-democratic, anti-people, right-wing administration.”
McEntee, chairman of the AFL-CIO’s political action program, called for the “biggest, boldest, most aggressive, political program in the history of American labor. Now is the time and, indeed this is the place. We are the people to beat Bush-Cheney and elect Kerry and Edwards.
“Throughout the house of labor we are working harder and smarter than ever before,” McEntee said. “We’re going to mobilize and educate like never before, and in November, we are going to take back the White House. We’ve got to walk more streets, knock on more doors, make more phone calls than ever before.
“In 2000, we delivered 26 percent of the turnout in the presidential election. This year we’ve got to do better. If we get to 28 percent of the households, Bush and Cheney are gone.
“We cannot let our country down. Labor can make a difference. Labor will make a difference. Labor is going to get the job done in 2004 and APWU is going to lead the way.”
APWU Health Plan Presents Status Report
The APWU Health Plan, like the rest of the union, could benefit from stronger participation by union members, William J. Kaczor Jr., the plan’s director told the convention on Tuesday.
“Over 300,000 APWU bargaining unit workers are eligible,” Kaczor said. “Only 20,000 are APWU members.”
“In the past two years,” he said, the plan has “significantly increased enrollment numbers, introduced an innovative new Consumer-driven Option, was one of the top-rated Health plans in the Office of Personnel Management’s comparison of health plans in the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program, and either lowered the premium cost for postal workers or kept prices below the average increase in FEHB.”
Kaczor said the Consumer-driven Option, introduced two years ago, was proving quite popular, especially with new members. The success, he said, was due to how “it gives members an option with more choices and more control over health-care decisions.”
The Health Plan’s High Option also showed significant increases in enrollment over the past two years, Kaczor said, in part because of its Wellness Benefit. “We are the only plan in FEHB that offers its members a reward for staying well.”
The Health Plan Director said that the plan continues to receive top ratings in member-satisfaction surveys and is highly rated in OPM’s comparison of plans in the FEHB program. As an indication of client satisfaction, Kaczor pointed out that “98 percent of our members stayed with the APWU Health Plan in 2003.”
APWU has a direct effect on every union member, Kaczor said. “The Health Plan contributes over $3 million in sponsorship income to the union’s treasury each year. The number of new enrollments in the Health Plan affects the amount of income the Union receives.
“Because of the growth in membership,” during last year’s Open Season, he noted, “our contribution grew from $3.4 million in 2003 to almost $4 million this year.”
The Health Plan currently has 79,000 members.