During the years 2000 to 2010, the annual wages of APWU represented employees were increased by $16,000. Throughout this period, the Postal Service experienced surpluses and deficits. Postal reform was a constant cry of the Republicans leading to the disastrous PAEA in 2006 along with the help of postal labor unions. We did not use volume loss or threats of consolidations as an excuse for our failure to achieve all of our objectives. We accomplished some of our goals and deferred others for another day, but we refused to take a step backwards with a promise of corrections tomorrow. The additional $16,000 per employee made it possible for hundreds of thousands of employees to live a decent life and retire with a “high 3″ that made their annuities livable income. Fast forward 30 years and calculate the future retirement annuity of an Grade 6 employee hired today at $16.00 per hour and limited to Step increases at Step J, and a Grade 3 custodial employee hired at $12.00 per hour with top Step at I. The retirement annuity of these employees will not be a livable income. After so much progress over the extended period of 40 years we have removed postal employment from a career job, and converted it to transient employment.
This reversal was sold as “saving” the Postal Service while Congress that has the constitutional responsibility, dithered and went on vacation. How did ‘they’ sell this disaster to so many intelligent people who put their reputation on the line for a disgraceful product?
Officers whom I deeply respected were seduced by the solidarity of collective action and lent their names to this travesty causing unforgivable harm to future generations of postal employees while protecting themselves. They bought into the promise of ‘saving’ the Postal Service while inflicting grievous harm to all future employees.
The mistake of the negotiators and their supporters was that they believed that postal wages emanates from the Postal Service. This is a misconception as the USPS is not akin to the federal government. They do not have an independent source of income and cannot print money on demand. All postal revenue comes from the mail users, including individual citizens and large mailers. The Postal Service collects revenue and distributes the proceeds for work and services performed. Savings generated from labor contracts are converted to artificially low rates for senders. American postal rates are already the lowest in the developed countries and it is so absurd that a pack of chewing gum costs twice the amount to send a message from Maine to California, by air, and have it home delivered. Single piece first class is set at 45 cents and there would be zero resistance to increasing it to 50 cents except Congress limited increases to the CPI. Resistance would come from commercial mailers who make their living on cheap postage and any increase would come in part from their profits. The one billion dollars per year removed from the pockets of postal employees is transferred directly to these mailers. So the myopic intent of saving the Postal Service instead generated greater profits for these mailers and permitted Congress to artificially cap rates at a record low level. Respected union officers erred in pretending that this was money coming from the Postal Service when in fact they are merely facilitators between the mailers and the employees. The one billion dollar annual transfer will multiply over time and in ten – twenty years and on will add up to tremendous wealth transferred from the employees to the mailers.
The future of the Postal Service has and will depend on the decisions of Congress. It is Congress that will determine appropriate funding schemes that will decide if sufficient revenue is generated to fund a national network. Union officers were convinced that the union had a responsibility to ignore the basic legislative requirement to compensate employees comparable to those in the private sector. This is the only stipulation of existing law. It is the responsibility of Congress to permit rates to rise equal to this obligation and the union officers’ oath to ensure that the comparability standard is met.