Waging the Good Fight!

September 1, 2016

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(This article first appeared in the September-October 2016 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Our union’s National Convention is the highest authority of the APWU. The 2,100 delegates in attendance at our recently-concluded “grand union meeting” set our course for the future and will guide your national officers. I was honored to chair the convention – under the theme “Fighting for Justice” – and to give the “State of the Union” speech. Below is an abridged version of my remarks.

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. 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. Our “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.

And in our rigged economy, the Wall Street crooks are doing just fine, bailed out from the economic crisis they caused while the 99% face layoffs, underemployment, home foreclosures, wage freezes, austerity, and declining standards of living. Income inequality is at historic levels.

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.

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 APWU is actively in the midst of this good fight.

Front and center since the last convention has been the fight for a new collective bargaining agreement. APWU negotiators refused to engage in another round of concessionary bargaining and 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 increasing 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 built solidarity and unity, which carries forward to strengthen our everyday battles for workplace justice.

The union also made advances on many other important fronts, including settlements in every craft that improved job security, gained thousands of new jobs in POStPlan offices, and won millions of dollars in back pay while fighting subcontracting. Notably, the union succeeded in winning the conversion of 35,000 Postal Support Employees to career.

Since the last convention, the union forged A Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service, comprised of 140 organizations, including 80 national labor, faith-based, community, environmental and civil rights organizations. The APWU also spearheaded the Campaign for Postal Banking.

The Stop Staples movement is going strong. 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.

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. It is a campaign to disrupt management’s plans to privatize retail jobs.

Despite our accomplishments, 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 industry 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. The union will remain involved in the debate over how to improve pending bills so that we can win postal 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 Trans Pacific Partnership, the secret trade deal known as the TPP.

We unite with workers fighting for $15 per hour and a union. We joined in solidarity with 39,000 unionists of the CWA (Communications Workers of America) and IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) during their victorious strike against Verizon. The APWU is part of the AFL-CIO “house of labor” and affiliated internationally with UNI Global Union.

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.

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 solely 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.

Mobilized and united in action, “Fighting for Justice,” we have made great progress. We can forge ahead, build our power, and win! Carry On and Solidarity Forever!

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