‘We Hope You Can Make Headway’

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(This article appears in the March-April 2014 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Mark Dimondstein, President

Soon after being interviewed on The Ed Show on MSNBC in December, I received an email from a cousin I don’t see very often who had seen the TV segment, which was about protests by postal workers in Springfield OR against planned plant closings.

Neither the salvation of a vibrant Postal Service nor its destruction is a foregone conclusion.

My cousin was pleasantly surprised to learn that I had been elected president of the APWU, but what was significant about the email was not the warm congratulations that one would expect from a relative, but what he said about the way he and his wife feel about the USPS: “We love the Postal Service and hope you can make some headway to keep it alive and functioning for the future of our country.”

Undoubtedly, my cousin and his wife represent the sentiments of millions of postal patrons who, over their lives, have benefited from the Postal Service and its great mission, which was expressed so well in the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970:

“The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people. The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.”

It couldn’t be said better. And it makes us proud to be postal workers! But I think many of us are appalled by the destructive path postal management is taking and the impact it is having on our jobs, families and communities.

Far From the Mission

There are powerful forces bent on a different mission than the one outlined in the 1970 law. Wall Street privatizers are grabbing larger and larger pieces of the Postal Service’s annual revenue of $65 billion. The big mailers largely dictate postal policies, and pre-sort discounts have created a massive and growing industry that now sorts more than 60 percent of first-class mail in the private sector, with a workforce that is largely non-union and is paid very low wages. Staples, the office supply retailer, is trying to become the private alternative to the neighborhood post office.

Representatives of both parties passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA), which is strangling the Postal Service with the demand to pay $5.5 billion a year to the federal treasury in the name of pre-funding health insurance for retirees 75 years in advance. This is a crushing burden that is unique to the Postal Service. Neither party is willing to fix it. More destructive legislation appears to be on the agenda of both the Democrats and Republicans.

The top levels of postal management have engaged in widespread plant consolidations, the reduction of hours at post offices, and an assault on overnight service standards. They threaten to abolish six-day service and home delivery, and continue to attempt to subcontract the entire Motor Vehicle Service Craft.

These privatization schemes all lead to the following results:

First, workers lives are disrupted.

Second, tens of thousands of good union jobs are eliminated.

Third, workers’ morale is at an all-time low, despite determined efforts to move the mail.

Fourth, the service that the people deserve is severely degraded as the public Postal Service is being dismantled, step by step.
However, neither the salvation of a vibrant Postal Service nor its destruction is a foregone conclusion. The struggle of postal workers, customers and our unions will determine the outcome. Our current campaign against the Staples deal that places postal units in the office-supply stores and staffs them with low-wage Staples employees is an example of “standing up and fighting back” for vibrant public postal services and the good jobs that come with it.

‘Standing Up, Fighting Back’

This is the timely theme of the union’s upcoming National Convention, which I will have the privilege of leading this coming July. The National Convention is the highest governing body of our union. The delegates you elect will be empowered to make decisions on your behalf regarding the path forward for our union — from the next round of contract negotiations to how best to protect the public Postal Service and other issues affecting all workers and the labor movement.

The resolutions you write, debate, and act on in your local and state meetings will help guide your leaders and help set the course of our union during the most difficult period we have ever faced. I encourage you, as a member, and every local and state organization to take these issues seriously.

Standing Up, Fighting Back! That is what you need from your union leaders. That is what the leadership needs from you, the member. Only together, and united with our sister unions and our communities, will we be in the strongest position to win — at the negotiating table, in the halls of Congress and “in the streets.”

The Staples fight is a good place to start. Together we are on our way to defending our living-wage jobs and the right of the people to a strong public Postal Service for generations to come.

Our “cousins” across the country deserve nothing less!

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