You have heard and read the excuses of why agreement was made to reduce postal employee compensation by $1 billion per year. The transfer of $1 billion each year from the cost of mailing to individual APWU represented employees. Many employees interpret this exchange as emanating from postal management to the employees, but as explained in an earlier post this revenue originates from the mailers of First class single piece and large mailers. They are the real payers of postal wages with postal management serving only as the quartermaster.
The excuses explaining the sacrifices made run the gauntlet – from USPS finances, the recession, health care payment and lack of congressional action. Each of these excuses has no legal bearing on the compensation of postal employees. Employees are exposed to this misinformation and parrot the official line that USPS finances are a factor in the expected wages and working conditions. This sharing of faulty information creates a mindset that influences union strategies and objectives and it is wrong. For every decision made to counter the USPS’ resistance to improved wages and working conditions, there is a conscious or subconscious admission that the Postal Service has financial problems and achievement must be accompanied by equal sacrifices. This mindset permeates union strategies and leads to proposals and agreements that are the antithesis to union objectives, two tier wages and the exchange of career positions for temporary employment. In an act of sheer stupidity, the union even bragged in testimony to Congress of the sacrifices made to “save” the Postal Service.
This mindset ignores the legal underpinning of postal employee wages and benefits. In 1971, with a blank slate Congress legislated the foundation for postal wages. They could have designed a system similar to that applied in the private sector where wages are determined by the market place and the competition to attract and retain skilled employees. They could have initiated a profit sharing scheme where employees would share a percentage of revenue over cost, or they could have left wages to be determined by a test of strength between management and employees. Congress elected instead to set postal wages in comparison with “employees in the private sector performing similar work.” This was a conscious decision made assumable after serious considerations, as the mindset at the time of reform was to prevent the reoccurrence of conditions that led to the 1970 strike. Today, union officials who did not participate in the struggle to achieve bargaining reinterpret the intent of Congress, and negotiate contractual conditions based upon perceived financial difficulties that were intended to be irrelevant.
The large mailers fully understand this contradiction in the law and have convinced supporting Republican legislators to offer amendments to the law and establish a legal link between the USPS’ finances and employee wages. The unions appropriately oppose such amendments, but illogically adjust their demands to reflect compliance with the proposal before it is even legislated. They have accepted the link between employee wages and profitability where none exists.
You can recall the unions hyper- explanations of the unfairness of the PAEA health care payment, and the absence of taxpayer funding for postal operations each of which has no relation to postal employee compensation. The law does not provide that, if the Postal Service experiences surplus employees will share and it does not provide that public opinion will determine the wage schedule. The rationale was positive, but it was irrelevant.
We have voluntarily gone down the road of linking postal wages to USPS finances and it takes us to a dark place. A place where Congress holds all the strings in demanding conditions for increasing rates, imposes unbearable future health care costs, sets borrowing authority and demands six day delivery. If Congress was truly concerned about government liability for future health care costs, why didn’t they instead impose surtax on postage as payment? Instead they required payment from general postal revenues crowding out the obligation to pay employees. What if Republicans gain control of the Senate and the White House and pass legislation requiring the Postal Service to pay a fee of $10 billion per year into some imaginary fund. This would be clearly beyond the financial ability of the USPS so “what do we do?” Does the union then make future sacrifices by the employees to meet this new imposition? As expected, in response to these restrictions, postal management demands employee wage adjustments and relief from the comparability standard. It is expected that postal employees would respond to the incessant publicity and expect negative wage adjustments, but they are not individually responsible, union leaders are. The anti-union forces in Congress have on their agenda the attack on employee wages with irrelevant rationale and the union has become a willing partner.
In good times, postal employees made political demands about their expectations, elevating their perceived worth to personal standards. They demanded wages based upon needs as compared to comparisons with others and many union officials responded as best they could to meet the expectations. Over a period of 40 years, both objectives were generally met with wages expanding commensurate with the private sector. The Cost of Living adjustments were the equalizer and postal wages generally tracked the private sector even without public comparison, until now.
Now the union explains the significant wage reductions through fear of the unknown pointing to factors that have absolutely no bearing. From their decisions, postal employment has been changed from middle class to transient labor and it did not have to happen. While arbitrators have within their authority to impose conditions inconsistent with the law as arbitrator Starke recently did, any union that voluntarily agrees to a compensation standard that is contrary to the governing law errors to the extreme. Until and unless the law is changed, postal employees’ compensation is governed by the comparability standard, no more, no less and any decisions made in deviation are a gross disservice. Until changed, the wage standard for postal employees is and has been comparability. If we have risen above it, let’s examine the statistics and list the exceptions but if we have not exceeded the wages of employees performing similar work in the private sector, the 2010 national agreement represents an undeserving gift to the large mailers and postal employees are the victims.
My Journey: A Postal and Unique American
Experience from Brown Books
[Biography & Autobiography]