Previously, I reported on this site about casual conversations that I had with union officials regarding the 2010 national agreement. During the discussions, the officials repeatedly defended the regressive contractual changes referring to the affected employees as “them” and I wondered when did the American Postal Workers’ union divide “them” and “us;” the officers and employees hired before May 23, 2010 and those hired afterwards. I assume that in the references spoken, the officers are highest in the “us” food chain as they receive annual salaries of $100,000 and more and a step below are employees within the APWU bargaining unit who will be paid as much $63,000 per year. Then there are the “them” who will receive far less. These are employees who will work for the same employer, performing the same work, but who have been classified as “they” so are deserving of the reductions.
My conception of a union is that all represented employees are a part of “us.” That is how we have referred to the entire bargaining unit for years and have traveled the road to our present position as a group; now comes the division. The economy is bad so “they should expect to receive less.” The Postal Service has financial difficulties so to save the service someone must sacrifice and “they have been chosen.” When the Postal Service advertises for jobs “they will line up for blocks to accept $12.00 per hour” and they are not deserving of more. When “they” accept postal employment they will not be seeking career employment as “we” did 30 years ago.
This separation into different camps reveals a mindset that has permeated union leadership leading to decisions made that have divided postal employees into these distinct groupings of the have and have not’s. We justify the separation by identifying them as “them” and by doing so, conclude that they are not deserving of more. But as we leave the service and we all will, the ranks of the “them” grows and we will wake up one day and the “them” will be “us” and they will wonder what did we do.