06/30/2018 - The American Postal Workers Union began negotiations for a new union contract with the U.S. Postal Service with an opening session on June 26th. In a display of postal union unity, NALC Executive Vice-President Brian Renfroe and NPMHU president Paul Hogrogian sat shoulder to shoulder with the APWU leadership. A host of notable labor and community allies, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and NAACP national leader Hilary Shelton, were present in support, underscoring the national importance of this round of bargaining. The APWU delegation of 80 national officers, the Rank and File Bargaining Committee, friends and supporters and local representatives marched to the meeting room chanting “Fired Up and Ready to Go!” while in a national day of APWU solidarity and unity thousands of members wore their stickers: “Fighting Today for a Better Tomorrow.”
APWU welcoming remarks were given by Industrial Relations Director and chief spokesperson Vance Zimmerman, sharing that “the APWU will work long and hard every day to reach an agreement that acknowledges and appreciates the dedication, hard work and value of our members.” The welcome was followed with main table introductions by Executive Vice-President Debby Szeredy and introductions of many guests, the APWU National Executive Council, the rank and file bargaining committee and young members committee by Secretary-Treasurer Liz Powell.
APWU President and lead negotiator Mark Dimondstein presented the union’s opening remarks pointing out that “Since the advent of true collective bargaining gained as a result of the postal strike of 1970 - postal workers’ lives are vastly improved. And representatives of our union sit across the bargaining table from management as equals – not because we have important titles, but because we have a union sustained and supported by our members.”
With the recent White House proposal to privatize the Postal Service, Dimondstein didn’t mince words. “As we enter these negotiations, powerful forces on Wall Street and the likes of UPS continue to push for the breaking up of the postal service and selling pieces off to the highest bidders,” he said, adding that “management should not be afraid of bold and creative thinking and approach these negotiations as an opportunity to discuss various ways to protect and expand the public postal service.”
Dimondstein discussed the union’s general goals for bargaining: fair compensation, safe workplaces free of harassment, job security and opportunity to enjoy secure and dignified retirements. “Our members want an end to the divisive unfair three-tier wage and benefit structure,” he said. “We want an end to the situation where new hires do not, or barely make, a living wage, and where full-time career work has been undermined.
“We also approach these negotiations as an opportunity to promote a vision for a vibrant postal service for generations to come,” Dimondstein continued.
“We know the Postal Service is facing serious challenges,” he said. “Changes to the mail mix - letters are down while packages are up - create both hardships and hope. The bi-partisan 2006 PAEA, with its absurd pre-funding mandate of future retiree healthcare costs and the creation of the artificial postage rate cap, combined with the inability to recoup overpayments to retirement funds and the loss of the exigency price hike at the hands of the Postal Regulatory Commission have undermined our national treasure.”
“But the fix is in the hands of those who created the crisis - Congress and the PRC – and must not be on the backs of the workers who already sacrificed far too much in the 2010-2015 contract.
“Key to the success of the postal service, past, present and future, has been the workers – from those who sell postage and accept packages, to those who sort medicine and catalogues, to those who transport the mail and repair the vehicles, to those who maintain the equipment and facilities, to those who deliver the mail. These negotiations are an opportunity for management to honor and reward this commitment and hard work.”
President Dimondstein concluded his remarks vowing that the APWU will approach negotiations “with a passion for the public we serve and the workers we represent. We will keep an open mind, forthrightly share our proposals, and be honest in our dealings. We will work hard to achieve a voluntary negotiated collective bargaining agreement.”
Both AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka and NAACP leader Hilary Shelton made brief comments as part of the opening ceremony, underscoring the fact that the APWU is not alone in this battle. Shelton underscored that the largest civil rights organization in the country and a proud participant in “A Grand Alliance to Save Our Postal Service” stands solidly with the workers in their quest for workplace justice. Trumka promised that the APWU would have the full support of the 13 million members of the AFL-CIO.
The next bargaining session will take place the week of July 8th through July 12th. The APWU leadership will continue to update the members on the progress of the ongoing battle for a good union contract.