Taking It to The Streets!

July 1, 2014

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(This article appears in the July/August 2014 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Mark Dimondstein, President

Wow! It was great to be out in the streets of Washington, DC with 200+ APWU members and other union leaders and activists on April 24, the National Day of Action to Stop Staples.

Rousing comments were given by John Hegarty, president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union; Tim O’Malley, vice president of the National Association of Letter Carriers; J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees, and Jos Williams, president of the Washington DC Metro Council, AFL-CIO. They spoke passionately in support of our fight to protect living-wage, union jobs and to ensure that postal customers are served by highly-trained USPS employees who are accountable to the people.

It was inspiring to know that the Washington rally was just one of 56 protests in 27 states on the same day. (There have been additional actions in conjunction with APWU meetings, as well as ongoing protests in California and Georgia, where the Staples program is already in effect.)

I hope union members are as encouraged as I am by the news that following the National Day of Action, the California, Michigan and New Hampshire chapters of the American Federation of Teachers voted to boycott Staples, as did the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists. Thirty U.S. representatives from California, spearheaded by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D), also called on PMG Patrick Donahoe to end the dirty deal.

At the end of May, the 12-million strong AFL-CIO endorsed our “Don’t Buy Staples” campaign!

Staples will continue to feel the “street heat.” Active and retired members are organizing their families, friends and co-workers to sign postcards addressed to Ron Sargent, the CEO of Staples, telling him that until his stores staff their postal counters with USPS employees, we will take our business elsewhere.

Signing the postcard is a small step in sending a big message to the privatizers: Mess with our jobs and the peoples’ right to public postal services, and we are ready to fight back – and we intend to win!

Pinocchio’s Nose Is Growing

USPS propaganda makes the Staples deal sounds like an innocent project to bring in more business. The Postmaster General has even accused the APWU of creating a “ruse” with our charges that the Staples deal is privatization of retail services.

But the facts speak for themselves. Internal USPS documents reveal that the Staples deal is a crass attempt to reduce the cost of “traditional” postal union labor and shift it to low-wage labor, period.

In California, hours have been cut at USPS facilities located near Staples stores. This exposes the Postal Service’s false claim that there will be no impact on our jobs.

And while the PMG claims new revenue is being generated at the knock off Staples postal units, this revenue is primarily from customers who would have otherwise done business at a post office.

Postmaster General Donahoe, postal workers are not so easily fooled!

PSE Conversions, PTF Transfers

Thanks to the March 20 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) regarding filling residual vacancies, over 1,800 Clerk Craft Postal Support Employees (PSEs) have been converted to career employment. Additionally, over 1,000 part-time flexibles have availed themselves of the MOU’s one-time transfer opportunity to move to full-time vacancies in their districts.

In the coming months we expect many more conversions of PSEs in all crafts. My congratulations to the PSEs who were converted – and my continuing commitment to all PSEs to work together to improve PSE rights, benefits and opportunities.

It is vitally important that the APWU involves young workers – who are mostly concentrated in the ranks of the PSEs and the newly-converted employees – in our activities. Longer-term union leaders should encourage, uplift and mentor the next generation. Younger activists should never be seen as a threat; they are an asset.

To meet the challenges of the next round of Collective Bargaining, win the Stop Staples fight, stop the subcontracting of Motor Vehicle Craft jobs, protect and enhance the public Postal Service, and build decent jobs for the next generation, we need the spirit, energy and ideas of young workers – our future!

Only About Representation?

Too often I hear the view that the primary function of our union is “representation,” meaning contract negotiations and grievance processing. This view narrows the necessary scope of our union.

A union’s mission is far greater than the vital work of negotiating contracts and enforcing them through grievances. When auto workers engaged in the historic sit-down strike at a General Motors plant in Flint, MI in 1936 and won union recognition, or when postal workers stormed the heavens and engaged in an unlawful strike in 1970, they were using their collective strength to win some real workers’ power in the workplace – a true voice at work, an end to favoritism, a living wage and much more. They sought through their unity and decisive action to gain a better life for their families.

If our union is only about “representation” we will not be capable of standing up to forces in Congress, the Postal Service and corporate America that are rapidly undermining, degrading and privatizing the USPS.

The Staples fight shows us that a union must be able to educate, organize and mobilize to take our fight to the workplace, the halls of Congress and the streets in solidarity with other unions and our allies at home and abroad.

The APWU National Constitution says it very simply: “We believe all members of labor have the right to economic, political and social justice.”

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