President Dimondstein: We Can Forge Ahead, Build Power, and Win!

August 23, 2016

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In a rousing speech to convention delegates, President Mark Dimondstein outlined the challenges and possibilities facing APWU members.

“We are working, living and struggling in a time where there is an all-out war on workers, our families, our communities, our standards of living, our rights, our organizations,” he said. “Make no mistake about it: It is Them vs. Us. Wall Street vs. Main Street. Capital vs. Labor...

“Our precious right to vote is under severe attack,” and “elections are increasingly and openly bought and sold,” he said.

“By design, we have a ‘winner takes all’ election system perpetuates the choice between the ‘lesser of two evils.’” and “stacks the deck against the development of a needed union-based political party…

“CEOs of fast food chains make $9,000, not a month, not a week, not a day, but an hour – while they resist workers’ demands for $15 per hour…

“Public libraries, parks, hospitals, schools, utilities, transportation and yes, public postal services, are under extreme attack aimed at privatization…

“But since the people trust the post office and postal workers, outright privatization is not so easy. Instead privatizers seek to degrade service as a means to their end: Keep the lines long, hours short, delay mail, deliver late. This is the aim of the recent bipartisan rollback of postal rates and the bi-partisan 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which created the congressionally-manufactured financial crisis being used to choke the Postal Service.

“All this is part of our reality. But there is another truth as well: Workers are standing up and fighting back– a message powerfully delivered by the uprising of hundreds of thousands of courageous Wisconsin workers who sparked a new period of labor activism.

“Fast food and retail workers are leading the charge for living wages, and making real gains. 

“Unionized auto workers stood firm in recent contract negotiations and largely eliminated the divisive two-tier wage systems at the “big three” auto companies.

“Forty-thousand unionized workers took on the behemoth Verizon Corporation in a 46-day strike, and won.

“The entire labor movement stands united against the Trans Pacific Partnership – the TPP – and other rotten trade deals that enrich multinationals at the expense of workers everywhere.

“And the APWU is actively in the midst of this good fight.

“The two years since our last National Convention have been challenging and exciting as we work to transform our union into a fighting, activist organization.

“Together, we have made many advances.

“Front and center has been the fight for a new collective bargaining agreement with the USPS, covering 200,000 workers, which followed the successful completion of long delayed negotiations in our Support Services Division.

“With your support and the guidance of the 2014 National Convention delegates, this leadership refused to engage in another round of concessionary bargaining. I was honored to be your lead negotiator and proud that we made progress on most of our major goals – securing real wage increases, strengthening job security, defending our cost-of-living and no lay-off protections, and enhancing the career and full-time workforce.

“As union leaders you played a crucial role by embracing the nationwide Contract Campaign. Contract Action Teams educated their co-workers and the public, organized the buttons, stickers and union gear campaigns, and got hundreds of thousands of “I Stand with Postal Workers” postcards signed. You sent a powerful message and helped win good tentative agreements with management, many of which were incorporated into the arbitration award.

“You built solidarity and unity, which carries forward to strengthen our everyday battles for workplace justice. I congratulate all of you on the successful contract battle for “Good Service! Good Jobs! Good Contract!”

“While we focused immense time and resources on preparation, negotiations, mediation and interest arbitration in the victorious fight for a good contract, we also made advances on many other important fronts.

“The union leadership of all our divisions won major arbitration cases and reached significant settlements with management that improved job security. Examples include gaining thousands of jobs with POStPlan, …  ‘Global Settlement’ of $56 million in back pay while defending bargaining unit work and protection against  violations of subcontracting in Maintenance and Motor Vehicle crafts.

“Building on the outstanding settlement on the filling of residual vacancies, the union has succeeded in converting 33,000 PSEs to career since the last convention! What a life-changing, union-won event, thanks in part to the work of so many of you to enforce the contract – and a great opportunity to bring new members and activists into the union cause. 

“Last convention, I spoke of the need to build a grand alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service. It is now a reality and consists of 140 organizations, including 80 national labor, faith-based, community, environmental and civil rights organizations. Actor-Activist Danny Glover is featured in a terrific Alliance video and he spoke on behalf of the Alliance on the opening day of contract negotiations.

“The Alliance has voiced their concerns directly to the Postmaster General, has social media presence, and recently concluded five regional field hearings on the importance of the public Postal Service to our communities. The public postal service will only survive and thrive with the support of the people.

“The APWU has also spearheaded the campaign for Postal Banking.  The ‘legal loan sharking’ predatory payday lending, check-cashing industry preys on tens of millions of the working poor. The Postal Service, with its highly-trained and dedicated workforce and its presence in every community, is well-positioned to provide paycheck cashing and other basic financial services, commonly performed by postal systems around the world. Winning this fight will strengthen our public Postal Service and protect postal jobs.

“And what about the Staples fight? Since we took to the streets during the Chicago convention and proclaimed, ‘The U.S. Mail is Not for Sale,’ Staples stock has dropped 50 percent; the company is shuttering stores; its merger with Office Depot was rejected by the courts (thanks in large part to our efforts); and Staples CEO Ron Sargent was forced out.

“The Stop Staples movement is going strong. Leafleting at Staples stores is constantly turning away customers and we have won significant victories at the National Labor Relations Board. We have the ongoing support of our sister unions and many allies.

This is not just a fight against Staples.  Plain and simple, this is a campaign to disrupt and stop management’s plans to privatize retail jobs. And here’s some great news: In his farewell address former Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe admitted we are winning when he acknowledged, ‘Unfortunately, it’s now tougher for us to find retail partners.’  Brothers and Sisters, are you for finishing the battle until Staples gets out of the postal business!?

“Two years ago, our Postal Union Alliance was new. Since then, the relationship has grown stronger. Challenges remain over jurisdictional disputes, but all four unions are part of A Grand Alliance and the Campaign for Postal Banking. All four unions have united in joint legislative efforts and in the fight to Stop Delaying America’s Mail. Our sister postal unions continue to support the Staples boycott. And NALC President and our good Brother Fred Rolando joined us in solidarity at the table on the opening day of negotiations…

“On the legislative front, let’s face it:  These are difficult and politically hostile times. Congress has refused to address the pre-funding financial crisis they created and White House nominees to the Board of Governors include the ‘king of privatizers’ James Miller and payday loan lobbyist Mickey Barnett.

“We have worked with our sister postal unions and even postal management to gain legislative relief. We have begun to build relationships that did not previously exist with Republican members of Congress from rural states as part of our fight to restore and protect good postal services.

“Two new bills, recently introduced in the House and Senate, are far from perfect. The easy path would be to just reject them, but that would leave us empty handed.

“This leadership will stay deeply involved in the debate over how to improve the bills so that we can support them and win postal reform – reform that fixes the pre-funding crisis and addresses other crucial issues facing the Postal Service.

“As part of the general fight for justice we participate in the Democracy Initiative to drive corporate money out of politics and defend our right to vote. We stand with the people of Flint and Ferguson in the fight for civil rights and social justice. We have been in the streets and the halls of Congress opposing the TPP. We unite with workers Fighting for $15 per hour and a union. We joined in solidarity with 39,000 CWA and IBEW unionists during their victorious strike against Verizon. The APWU is part of the AFL-CIO “house of labor” and internationally affiliated with Union Network International (UNI)

“Let me share a few comments on the 2016 U.S. election: I believe the 2016 presidential primary season was truly historic as millions, particularly young people, proclaimed they were dissatisfied with our country’s rigged political system. Millions responded to Senator Sanders call for a political revolution with its bold, pro-working-class message of living wages, free college tuition, Medicare for All, defending the ‘public good’ and taking on Wall Street greed. Even many of the votes for the anti-union, anti-worker, race- and religion-baiting Donald Trump, reflect legitimate disgust with business as usual.

“I fully respect that every individual’s choice at the ballot box is a personal decision, mine included.  The APWU National Executive Board was on the cutting edge of history when we endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, an outstanding friend and supporter of postal workers. And so many APWU activists were enthusiastically ‘Feeling the Bern.’

“In light of the results of the presidential primary, and given the stark choices, the National Executive Board has now endorsed the Democratic Party nominee, Hillary Clinton. It will now up to this convention to decide the best way forward in this 2016 election.

“Remember, elections come and go. But the struggle continues. Whoever sits in the White House, the main challenge going forward will be to build a powerful movement for social and economic justice…

“We should also help to find a way out of the “lesser-of-two-evil” choices we are continually offered and build an independent political movement where we are not taken for granted by politicians, where elections are not bought and sold, and where our elected representatives are truly accountable to the people.

“Sisters and Brothers, even with solid progress, we have a challenging road ahead. There are powerful, organized forces that work against the public good, unions and workers’ rights.

“We will continue the fight to improve working conditions and implement the national-level settlement we negotiated in June to speed up the grievance procedure.

“We will continue to resist the slash-and-burn policies former Postmaster General Donahoe put in place that undermine good service to the people and job security and we will build the fight for expanded services.

“We will continue to fight for needed postal reform that fixes the pre-funding debacle and to promote “pro-postal” nominees to the Postal Service Board of Governors and the Postal Regulatory Commission.

“We will continue to build the ‘Stand Up for Safe Jobs’ campaign in every corner of every post office.

“We will continue the good fight to stop further plant consolidations and closings and to return to overnight service standards.

“We will continue the strides we’ve made in developing more and better communication with our members, such as the tele-town calls.

“We will continue to build an ever greater presence in the national news media –

TV, radio, print, and Internet – in defense of the public Postal Service and good postal jobs!

“We will reignite our efforts to organize the entire postal industry!

“With your guidance, we will soon begin serious preparations for the next round of collective bargaining while we build our power and leverage.

“Together, with all of you, we will continue to build an activist, fighting union. We will continue to encourage, educate, and learn from a new generation of APWU activists!

“Yes, we have powerful and organized adversaries. But there are far more of us than them. When we learn to better unite and fight, when we defeat the divide-and-conquer schemes of corporate America that divide white from black, native born from immigrant, men from women, private from public sector, active from retired, career from non-career, craft from craft, workers at home from workers abroad, we will realize our power and we can and will win.

“Brothers and Sisters – Stand up under-35 delegates, the future of our union! Stand up participants of the Great Postal Strike! Stand up national officers! Stand up local and state presidents. Stand up executive board of your locals and states! Stand up craft officers. Stand up Shop Stewards!  Stand up editors. Stand up first time delegates! Stand up retirees. Stand up all delegates and proud APWU members!

“Shake hands with the person on each side of you. Look across the table and give them a fist bump. What do you see? Someone just like you and me, am I right? Oh yes, we may come in different colors, shapes and sizes. We may have arrived on these shores with different stories and histories. We come from different religions, ethnic backgrounds, genders and sexual orientations. We have varying political beliefs from Tea Party to Socialist and a whole lot in-between. But our blood flows in the same direction of justice. Our hearts beat in unity in the fight for more workers’ power.  We share the passion for a better life for ourselves and our families and are ready to pass that on to young and future leaders. We are the activist core and firm foundation of the APWU. We believe in a vibrant public Postal Service! We are fighters for justice! So give yourselves and each other a standing ovation!

Sisters and Brothers, from our workplaces to the streets, from our neighborhoods to the halls of Congress, it is time to ever more seriously educate, organize, mobilize and galvanize. We will not be able to elect, litigate, hope or grieve our way out of these difficult and dangerous times. We will have to fight our way out with a movement of millions and using all the tools at our disposal. We must build a crusade to organize the unorganized! We must continue to organize a crusade to save the public Postal Service. We must be part of a crusade to save our unions! We must be part of a crusade for social and economic justice. Let’s continue to stand up and fight back, hand-in-hand with each other, all postal unions, all labor, the public and our many community allies… 

“The last two years have shown us this truth. Mobilized and united in action, ‘Fighting for Justice,’ we made great progress. We can forge ahead, build our power, and win! Carry On and Solidarity Forever!"

Empowering Young Workers

Courtney Jenkins, standing, co-chaired the workshop

At a workshop on Empowering Young Workers, Robin Robertson asked the question on everyone’s mind: How do we attract more young workers to the union cause? At 38, the secretary-treasurer of the St. Louis Gateway Area Local is the youngest activist in her local.

In the past, locals had bowling leagues and invited workers to join; if they heard you singing by your machine, they asked you to join the chorus, said Clerk Craft NBA Rachel Walthall, who helped lead the workshop.

But as Cleveland Area Local President Daleo Freeman pointed out, “You have to craft the message for the time.”

If a young worker is interested in art, ask them to design a flyer for an upcoming event, Walthall suggested. “Find out what they are into, what excites them,” she said. 

“Find your niche,” said Keith Richardson, Central Region Accident Benefit Association Director. “Find that first and then you grow. Every local has something that you can take from it and grow.”

In a panel discussion, Walthall, Freeman and Richardson – now in their 40s – shared lessons from their own triumphs and tribulations when they were young, new union activists. The panel discussion was moderated by Courtney Jenkins, a member of the Baltimore Area Local’s Executive Board and the APWU’s representative to the AFL-CIO’s Young Worker Advisory Council.

Growing Pains

There’s no denying that being a young union activist comes with growing pains. Mistakes will be made, but finding a mentor – or several – to guide you will keep you moving in the right direction, Jenkins said.

Walthall echoed that theme, repeatedly paying tribute to the experienced union officers who guided her when she got started – and who continue to give her counsel to this day.

But older, more experienced union officers don’t always encourage young people to get involved, Freeman noted. Sometimes, he said, “They tell you to wait your turn.” 

“Don’t think you are going to run in and become president,” he added. “What you need to do is get involved. That’s the only way we are going to perpetuate ourselves.”

Young members have every right to attend meetings and voice opinions, Walthall said, and when their numbers grow, their voices will grow louder, too. 

Panelists Daleo Freeman, Keith Richardson, and Rachel Walthall, who co-chaired the workshop.

By the same token, newer activists must recognize they have a lot to learn. Freeman recalled how proud he was of the first grievance he settled as a shop steward, until a more experienced representative helped him negotiate a better deal. 

Finding the balance between asserting yourself and learning from others was a theme throughout the workshop. But all agreed: Getting more young people involved is essential to the future of the APWU.

Johanna Rice, from the Northeast Florida Area Local, asked how to avoid getting overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being a steward, especially when time to conduct union business is scarce.

“You have to learn to sustain yourself. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” Freeman said.

Getting young workers involved is a must, Walthall said. When experienced union officers retire, young workers must be there to fill their very big shoes.

“Don’t forget about the APWU because we are here to stay. We want to make sure the union is here for working people,” she said.

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