8/6/2012 2:09:58 PM
Later this month, APWU delegates will assemble in Los Angeles to engage in the 21st biennial national convention. These will be postal employees from every part of the country, both small rural communities and large metropolitan areas representing their brothers and sisters in the construct and conduct of their union. The maiden convention was held in New Orleans in 1972 following the merger of five unions (Clerks, Maintenance, Motor Vehicle, Special Delivery and NPU) to form the American Postal Workers Union. I was privileged to serve as a delegate to each of the conventions to date including the special constitutional convention in 1975. I served as a delegate from the Cleveland local in 1972, as president of Cleveland in 1974/75, 76, 78 and 80, executive vice president in 82 through 2000 and president in 2002 through 2010. APWU national conventions are the result of the vision of Stu Filbey, the architect of merger with a vision of one union of postal employees. He never achieved the ultimate objective, failing to convince the letter carriers, mail handlers and rural letter carriers the value of speaking with one voice but he created the largest and most progressive postal union in the world.
The convention is the foundation of the democratic principles embodied in the APWU constitution.This convention will take place at a pivotal time in the history of the postal labor movement. The Postal Service is experiencing severe financial challenges caused by legislative interference in postal matters and decreased mail volume. Postal employment is in transition. Electronic communications have challenged the USPS’ role in the communications arena and the adjustments necessary have been limited by the onerous financial obligation to fund future health care cost. So as the delegates assemble, many of the fundamental issues that will influence the future of the postal service are beyond their control. Consolidations, changes to service standards and a host of other management responses to the erosion of single piece first class volume and the five billion dollar plus annual payment will dictate the postal service of tomorrow. The delegates are expected to voice their opinions in vigorous debate, but they will be limited in dictating outcome.
Of the many issues that are expected to be addressed, the officers’ structure will be center stage. As the membership level has declined annually, the number of union officers has increased proportionally in the opposite direction, fewer members, and more officers. In 1971, Filbey agreed to an officer’s structure beyond the needs of the union to accommodate merger with the expectation that adjustments would be made in future years. Even in this pivotal convention when focus must be placed on downward adjustments there will be efforts to add even more positions. The result is that after 40 years of efforts to reduce the numbers, the union has more officers in 2012 than at the time of merger in 1971 with fewer members and the threat of consolidations that if pursued as planned, will further reduce the bargaining unit. In 2012, APWU has more elected officers than the top seven labor unions combined (AFSCME – SEIU – Machinist – Teamsters – Teachers – CWA – LIUNA). These unions have a combined membership of over six million compared to the 160,000 in APWU.
The continuing employment of constitutionally required officers with the full range of salaries and benefits will pose significant constitutional restrictions on the financial ability of the union to perform necessary functions. The percentage of union dues required to fund the structure is at an all-time high and will grow in the coming years. At some point in the not too distant future, officer and retired officers’ salaries, annuities and benefits will dominate the distribution of members’ dues to a dangerous level. It would be interesting to see the percentage of national dues used to support the officers’ structure and retiree benefits with a membership base of 300,000 – 200,000 and 100,000 including the cost of one secretary for each two officers, payments for unused leave and severance.. It is expected that the result will reveal a dues structure tilted dangerously to job creation as the primary allocation of the national union’s dues.
The delegates to the 2010 convention required an annual meeting of all officers, field and resident, to develop a resolution to respond to changes occurring in the Postal Service and the Resolution adopted by the Council will be considered by the 2012 delegates. In essence, the resolution (Resolution 216) seeks convention approval to defer the decision of officers’ position elimination to the president and craft directors with the concurrence of the board/council. I offer no opinion on the veracity of the resolution and defer to the judgment of the highest ranking body in the union, but the linchpin of the resolution is the occurrence of ‘vacancies’ subject to the decisions of the confirming bodies. I point out that under the APWU constitution the only occurrence when an officer position is determined to be ‘vacant’ is upon the death or resignation of an officer during the term of an election. In the history of APWU, I can recall fewer than eight total officer positions vacated midterm including Stu Filbey, Archie Salisbury, Richard Butler, Steve Albanese, Tom Maier, et al. This means that of over 3,000 individual terms of office during the 40 years and 15 elections, the average to be expected would be less than one vacancy every five years. The expected and planned consolidations in the immediate future are expected to have a more dramatic impact on the membership base and one vacancy every five years is not a schedule that will respond appropriately.
Many additional officer positions have changed, either through retirement or defeat of an incumbent, but such results does not declare the position ’vacant.’ The nomination process occurs six months prior to the election and during that period an officer can change his/her intent and interested challengers may announce their candidacy. Assuming there is an interested candidate during the nomination period, the position would not be declared officially vacant and subject to discretionary elimination during the course of the election or the term of office. Another quirky impediment is that the office of president is likewise subject to the exposure to elimination equal to all other positions and applying the same rules to eliminate a declared vacancy, one must assume the president’s reelection. Does he/she (president) make the determination before the submission of petitions and what qualifies it as a “vacancy?”
The convention delegates will decide the fate of resolution 216 as well as the others submitted. I wish them well in their deliberations.