Our Advantage is in Our Numbers - Let's Use It

Lamont Brooks

July 25, 2019

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(This article first appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

Negotiation Goals

The Clerk Craft’s goals during contract negotiations include steps towards starting all employees as career, and/or an automatic conversion provision after a specific amount of years.

Another important goal is preventing management from performing craft work in the Level 18 offices, which would give more hours to Part-Time Flexibles (PTFs), and make it easier to convert PTFs to full time.

Eliminating chronic understaffing, increasing wages and improving benefits are other negotiation priorities.

Preparing for Interest Arbitration

The Postal Reorganization Act states:

As an employer, the Postal Service shall achieve and maintain compensation for its officers and employees comparable to the rates and types of compensation paid in the private sector of the economy of the United States. It shall place particular emphasis upon opportunities for career advancements of all officers and employees and the achievement of worthwhile and satisfying careers in the service of the United States.

The Clerk Craft is preparing for interest arbitration by showing that the USPS is not adhering to providing “worthwhile and satisfying careers in the service of the United States.” Twenty percent of the Clerk Craft are not even career employees.

We also plan to demonstrate that Clerk Craft jobs are unique and not comparable to the low paid, non-union, private sector jobs the Postal Service would like to compare us to. In order to prove this, we set up a program where postal workers conducted interviews with their fellow workers to gather a comprehensive analysis of all duties clerks perform in service of the USPS.

The Value of Power in Influencing Decision Makers

Despite heading towards interest arbitration, we still have the ability to reach a negotiated settlement for a new contract with the Postal Service. At this juncture, it is helpful to recall that it was pressure from postal workers, and their friends and allies, that ultimately forced Staples and the USPS to end their secret deal that took work away from the Clerk Craft.

Similarly, such pressure from postal workers has an influence on the interest arbitrator who will decide our contract. Arbitrators are significantly influenced by the power each side has. That power is often more important than any rules being applied.

Whether management will agree to a new contract or whether an interest arbitrator will award us a favorable decision will be influenced by the power of the APWU relative to the USPS.

Imagine two different scenarios:

Scenario 1 – Postal Workers as Spectators

The USPS and large mailers continue to falsely paint the Postal Service as failing and requiring service cuts to the public and wage cuts to employees. The Koch brothers and friends step up their proxy articles saying postal workers are paid too much and the USPS should be privatized. APWU members thinking they no longer have a role to play, because the contract is in the hands of an arbitrator, sit on the sidelines as spectators.

Scenario 2 – Postal Workers as Powerful Participants

The large mailers continue their efforts to shape the narrative regarding the Postal Service as described above.

However, instead of sitting on the sidelines, postal workers step up and participate in their contract action teams, hold rallies, educate their communities, collect petitions in front of their post offices to address the chronic understaffing. They also increase requests to discuss contract violations with their steward, and otherwise engage in the field of public opinion and workplace as active participants.

What scenario favors the APWU? How serious are we all in wanting better wages, benefits and working conditions? Are we willing to stand up together in the workplace and in the street for a better work life?

If so, we have to work for it together. Our advantage is in our numbers. Let’s use it.

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