Dimondstein: Contract Negotiations Reflect Our Power

August 20, 2016

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“Negotiations come down to power,” APWU President Mark Dimondstein told delegates at the union’s National Convention at a meeting on the new contract. The results of negotiations reflect how much power and leverage each side can assert, he said.

With that in mind, as part of the fight for a good contract, union leaders sought to strengthen our members’ power on the work floor and build support for our struggle in the labor movement and beyond.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement is the result of a two-year fight. “You were all involved in it,” Dimondstein told the assembly at a special Saturday meeting.

Throughout the two-year struggle, the union was always preparing for the possibility that our contract dispute would end up in arbitration, he said.

“Arbitration is risky,” Dimondstein pointed out, because “everything gets thrown up into the air” and because “one person decides our fate.” The APWU contract covers more workers than any single Collective Bargaining Agreement in the country, so the result – good or bad – would affect the entire working class.

The union set big goals:

  • Stop the downward spiral in wages and benefits.
  • Achieve a fair wage increase for all postal workers.
  • Defend cost-of-living allowances (COLAs) and no-layoff protection for career employees.
  • Redefine full-time work to mean – once again – 40 hours per week.
  • End the divisive three-tier wage system.
  • Strive toward an all-career workforce.
  • Uplift wages and benefits for the non-career members where we are unable to achieve an all-career workforce.
  • Address management’s relentless push for subcontracting, particularly in the Motor Vehicle Craft, where the USPS has been trying to subcontract the entire driving workforce.
  • Expand and enhance service to help protect jobs and serve the people of the country as the USPS should.

And faced significant obstacles:

  • The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA) established a cap on postage rates, which amounts to a wage cap.
  • The PAEA also caused a USPS financial crisis by requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund health care benefits for future retirees.
  • Just as arbitration was about to begin, the Postal Regulatory Commission eliminated the “exigent” rate increase, cutting postage from 49 cents to 47 cents and sucking $2 billion of revenue out of the Postal Service annually.

“That’s not a great place to be,” Dimondstein said. “If there’s less money, that’s leverage for management.”

Other obstacles included:

  • The four unions still engage in separate negotiations, diluting our strength.
  • Workers face a hostile political environment.
  • Postal workers are legally barred from striking.
  • The 2010-2015 Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was a concessionary contract, became the starting point in this arbitration.

But the APWU also had significant strengths:

  • We have our union!
  • More than 80 percent of the APWU workforce are union members and our ranks are growing.
  • We organized a contract campaign.
  • We have collective bargaining rights.
  • Our members’ voices were present throughout the negotiations.

“We developed a strong strategy and did a lot of creative things. We had the contract campaign and Contract Action Teams. Most of you were part of it,” Dimondstein told delegates.

“Don’t underestimate what you did. We sent management a message.” Every time workers put on a sticker, a button, a T-shirt, or sent in a selfie showing union pride and solidarity, it became “part of our leverage and our collective strength,” he added.

Dimondstein also credited labor solidarity for the union’s success. “We had a lot of unions standing with us, including on the opening day of negotiations. Brother Fred Rolando of the Letter Carriers sat with us at the table on the opening day. We had probably seven or eight unions with us on opening day.”

AFL-CIO President Trumka represented the labor movement, testifying on opening day. Actor-Activist Danny Glover also testified, representing A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service.

“That sent management a message too,” Dimondstein said. The union’s guiding principle was “no concessionary bargaining.”

Nonetheless, management demanded concessions. The Postal Service sought to:

  • Establish a new tier with lower wages and benefits within the career workforce.
  • Eliminate COLAs and turn them into lump-sum payments that would never become part of base pay.
  • Increase the percentage of non-career workforce.
  • Weaken or eliminate no-layoff protections.

Instead, we accomplished a great deal:

  • Halted the race to the bottom.
  • Created more career work.
  • Protected COLAs.
  • Defended no-layoff protections.
  • Won general wage increases.
  • Increased job security.
  • Uplifted PSEs where we still have them.
  • Solidified the conversion process.
  • Established a task force to explore enhanced services.

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