Wayne County, MI
AFL - CIO
Vice President's Report
March / April 2019
It’s Contract Time (Again?)
The NALC will soon meet with Postal Service management to begin negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement. The existing labor contract between the Postal Service and the NALC is scheduled to expire at midnight on Friday, September 20, 2019.
For many letter carriers it likely seems as if we just finished ratifying and implementing the current contract. Such feelings are quite understandable, given the lengthy ongoing negotiation and ratification process that occurred following the expiration of the previous contract on May 20, 2016. Additionally, the current contract term is relatively short in duration; covering a period of just over three years (40 months).
The forthcoming new contract will be the 15th negotiated by the NALC with the Postal Service since 1971, when we first gained full collective bargaining rights following the legendary postal strike in March 1970 and the subsequent Postal Reorganization
Act of 1970. It was this legislation, passed by Congress and signed by then United States President Richard Nixon, which reconstituted the old Post Office Department as a newly created quasi-independent entity known as the United States Postal Service.
The Lessons of Our History
Prior to the Postal Reorganization Act, the NALC was not legally empowered to negotiate wages and benefits with the existing Post Office Department, instead having to rely on the whims of Congress to approve pay increases, a form of “collective begging.” As a result, even veteran full time letter carriers were badly underpaid, frequently having to work other jobs and seek public assistance in order to just be able to provide food and meet basic needs for their families.
The 1970 strike was an act of tremendous courage on the part of letter carriers at the time. They put it all on the line, and the framed strike signs on the wall of our Branch 2184 meeting hall honor the men and women that risked everything by taking a stand and holding their ground. How sadly ironic it is that nearly 50 years later a core component of the comprehensive and vicious attacks on Postal Service employees proposed by the Trump administration is an initiative to take away the right of postal unions to collectively bargain for wages and benefits.
Each of the 14 previous contracts between the NALC and the USPS resulted in wage increases for letter carriers and cost of living (COLA) adjustments as well as improvements in letter carrier benefits and updated work rules. There is of course still
much that can be improved, for example finding an effective manner for addressing the poisonous and dysfunctional work floor environment that still exists in far too many post office stations. We have a grievance procedure to address contract violations, but there remains a glaring absence of actual accountability for abusive management behavior that occurs on a widespread basis at the local level.
Nearly all letter carriers have their own ideas for improving the work environment as well as work rules and methods for accomplishing the core mission of the Postal Service. No one’s ideas should be discounted or ignored, and some of the ideas that I
first heard as a new NALC steward more than 46 years ago have since been implemented in part or in full. The surveys that the our union recently sent to active and recently retired letter carriers are an important way of obtaining feedback from the rank and file, but this is not the only way to make your thoughts known.
So What Happens Now?
During the last few contract negotiation cycles it became apparent that the process is quite misunderstood by many letter carriers throughout our nation. Collective bargaining is just that, a back and forth exchange of proposals by the NALC and Postal management, each seeking to advance its own interests. Contract negotiations are not “this is what I want, now give it to me,” as some seem to believe. Our Union began preparing for this round of negotiations immediately after the last Contract was ratified
and will bring well-crafted and evidence-based proposals to the table that enhance letter carrier wages, benefits, and working conditions. The Postal Service will counter with its own proposals, and substantial differences are to be expected.
Some have criticized the NALC for not obtaining more in the way of wages, benefits, and improved work rules during the last round of negotiations. However, the overwhelming margin of ratification of the current contract by NALC membership is a testament to overall level of satisfaction with the outstanding job that our national leadership did in preparing and presenting the union’s positions.
It is nearly always preferable to achieve a negotiated settlement rather than the risky prospect of leaving the outcome in the hands of an independent arbitrator. However, that is not always possible. The NALC will as always negotiate in good faith. It remains to be seen what the Postal Service does, especially given the intense pressure that will be put on the USPS by our political enemies – the Trump regime and its Republican allies, to attack and roll back the existing letter carrier wage and benefit structure.
Beware the Spread of False Information
Most of all, every NALC member can do their part throughout the contract negotiation process by making sure that they do not validate or repeat rumors and alleged information that is spread by dubious and unofficial sources. Whenever anyone begins a sentence with the words “I heard that,” or “somebody said,” anything that follows should always be ignored. The NALC will disseminate authentic information when it is appropriate and necessary to do so. Also keep in mind that contract negotiations are not conducted in a public manner, nor should they be. When Branch 2184’s officers and stewards do receive authentic information from the NALC National Office or from our National Business Agent’s office, we will at that time immediately provide it to our active members. All NALC members are also encouraged to frequently monitor the NALC National website and the NALC app for official information.
If the NALC can achieve a negotiated agreement that is acceptable to our union’s leadership, the tentative agreement and a ratification ballot will be sent to every active member. As before, members will have ample time to study the proposed agreement and to make an informed ratification decision. Together in solidarity we can and we will achieve a new collective bargaining agreement for the betterment of every letter carrier.
-- Joe Golonka