Give-and-Take On the Coburn Amendment
APWU Web News Article #091-09, Aug. 6, 2009
In a question-and-answer session following testimony [PDF] on Aug. 6 before a Senate subcommittee, APWU President William Burrus and NALC President Fredric Rolando were asked why postal unions object to the amendment to S. 1507 that was offered by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK).
The union leaders had testified that arbitrators routinely consider USPS financial circumstances during contract deliberations, so senators wondered what the problem was with making it a matter of law.
Burrus reminded the panel that under the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, postal workers yielded their right to strike in exchange for the promise of free collective bargaining with binding arbitration.
“Collective bargaining is either free or it’s not,” he asserted, saying that Sen. Coburn’s amendment would put “a thumb on the scale” for management during contract deliberations.
Rolando noted that when Coburn offered the amendment he erroneously declared that “the current law prevents arbitration boards from considering postal finances.” This statement went unchallenged, the NALC president added, during consideration of the amendment.
Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-CT) asked the union presidents to provide a list of other factors that arbitrators should consider when ruling on postal contracts. Burrus cautioned the lawmakers against attempting to develop such a list.
“Qualifying free and open rights under our Constitution is very dangerous, difficult, and fraught with all sorts of problems. For everything you include, you are excluding something else,” he said. “That’s the beauty of free collective bargaining — that there are no parameters.”
Issues that are very important during one set of negotiations could disappear before the next round of contract talks, Burrus said. “I would be very hesitant to put limitations, to try to identify what the parties should or should not consider.”
The union president encouraged APWU members to continue to express their concerns about the collective bargaining provision to their senators. “It is clear our message has begun to get through,” he said. “We must continue to press the point.” The intent of the amendment, he noted, is to cut postal workers’ salaries and reduce benefits.
APWU Legislative & Political Director Myke Reid praised union members’ efforts and also urged that they keep the messages coming. “They’ve sent thousands of letters and e-mails, and made thousand of phone calls to their senators. We need thousands more to combat this onerous amendment.”
Sen. Coburn and other GOP senators left the hearing before the union presidents testified, and none of them returned for the question-and-answer session with the union leaders.