Burrus Addresses Letter Carriers Convention

July 24, 2008

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In a historic moment for the two major postal unions, APWU President William Burrus delivered a speech at the biennial convention of the National Association of Letter Carriers. 

It was the first time that the top leader of either union had spoken at a national gathering of the other organization, and Burrus said it was symbolic of the need for solidarity among those whose livelihood depends on the Postal Service. 

“We must find new ways to combine our talents and fight for postal workers — together,” he told more than 7,000 NALC delegates gathered in Boston. “Not withstanding all of our accomplishments — and they have been many — our greatest challenges are before us.” 

“Our strength — the strength of working people — is working together,” Burrus said in the July 23 speech. “Over the past 38 years, we have found common cause in the strike in 1970, which was begun by Letter Carriers in New York City; in eight national negotiations, in numerous demonstrations, in working on legislation, and through many other joint endeavors.” 

“To the best of my knowledge, no national postal-union leaders ever have been given an opportunity to speak to the other’s national delegation,” Burrus said. He commended NALC President Bill Young “for being bold enough to invite me to your convention. It was a bold move by a bold leader.” This invitation has led to a similar invitation, he said: Bill Young will address the APWU convention, which is in Las Vegas in August. 

Although there had not been previous APWU-NALC crossover at conventions, Burrus recounted several examples of the unions working in tandem. “Larry Hutchins, your former VP, and I pioneered the challenge to the Postal Service’s use of casuals,” Burrus said. “We enforced the 90-10 staffing requirements, and also worked on the creation of the Postal Employees Relief Fund.” 

The APWU president noted that even when not working together, the two unions have had similar successes. “I am proud that in the last round of bargaining, I was successful in eliminating Transitional Employees and the part-time employment in all of our larger offices.” And duplicating the NALC upgrades of Letter Carriers in 2000, he added, during the last round of negotiations, “We were successful in upgrading all APWU-represented employees — 230 different job descriptions.”

Then, speaking of both unions, Burrus said that “I am especially proud that in these difficult times, not one of our members has suffered reductions in pay or has been laid off.”

But there is urgency for postal unions to work together, Burrus said, especially with the rocky prognosis for the postal workplace. “There are those who see the opportunity to change the Postal Service as we know it. They have presented their regressive proposals: Reduce delivery from six to five days; review the monopoly and the universal service obligation; increase contracting and subcontracting,” he said.

The Two Bills: NALC President Bill Young (left)
and APWU President William ‘Bill’ Burrus.

The recent announcement of an early retirement offer for postal workers is further indication of trouble in the forecast. “But I am determined that in these challenging times, postal management does not solve its financial difficulties on the backs of workers,” Burrus said. “In every other industry that has reduced the workforce, they offered buyouts.”

“The Postal Service has elected to reduce the complement on the cheap, and force the retiring employee to finance the bridge from employment to retirement.” In doing so, the USPS will save up to $1 million for each retiring employee, he said.

Burrus said that he is advising APWU’s early-out-eligible employees not to go. “My message is: ‘Buyouts: Yes. Early retirement: No.’

“In the best of times, retirement requires an adjustment, but these times are especially challenging. And bad economic news, he said, is of course not restricted to the postal environment.

“We must elect as president and members of Congress champions for working people. We need a president who listens to people before lobbyists.”

Burrus noted that the NALC convention had endorsed Sen. Barack Obama. “This is a tribute to your commitment to our future,” he said, “and it was a brilliant touch to have that endorsement made by Sen. Hillary Clinton,” whom the letter carriers had supported throughout the primary season.

“I look forward to working with our brothers and sisters of your union in fighting for change, in electing Barack Obama as the next president of the United States.”

“My constant message to my union is the need for change,” he said, “and change we must if we are to survive. In this changing world, none of us is strong enough or smart enough to go it alone.…

“We must find common ground,” he said, “because, despite all of our successes, our future will be determined by our ability to work together.”

“In the postal labor community, your president has made the first move,” Burrus said. “You cannot imagine how symbolic my presence is at your convention. Saying that he makes “no predictions or suggestions” about the future, Burrus said he sees this as a starting point.

“Perhaps delegates 100 years into the future will look back and pay tribute to your courageous invitation and announce that at the 2008 NALC National Convention ‘the seed was sown; that was the beginning.’” 

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