Having spent 53 years as an employee or union representative in the United States Post Office, I was exposed to some of the most intelligent and caring individuals in the world. In my book, My Journey, I chronicle my interaction with fellow workers who taught me the skills to be a man for which I will always be grateful. This firsthand knowledge of the breadth and depth of the intelligence of postal employees belies their involvement in the union’s political process where members routinely vote at a dismal rate of 30% or less. This relates to a staggering number of the remaining 70% of the members whose lives will be directly affected by decisions made deliberately choosing to have no opinion and opt to refrain from selecting one candidate over another.
It is one thing to refuse union membership because of real or imagined issues with the union or its leaders while enjoying all of the benefits of union efforts, but even among those who make their monthly deduction to the union, the rate of participation is pathetic. After committing $40 to $60 per month in union dues, these intelligent and articulate human beings elect to be non-participants in the elective process. Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck would suit them just fine.
Contract negotiations and enforcement are the responsibility of the elected officials and their product directly affects every bargaining unit employee so one would expect that the candidates for office who submit their skills, abilities and vision would be examined intensely to determine if they are up to the task. Yet the record shows that the vast majority of members choose to be non-participants.
Endorsements are meaningless in determining participation. Local leadership that pledges support for one candidate over another can barely produce 30% of the membership to vote for a specific candidate.
APWU is a national union representing employees in 30,000 facilities so it is not possible to have personal relationships between candidates and each member but postal employees have daily experiences that can be applied to the effectiveness of incumbent union officials or the vision of change for those seeking new office. One would assume that each employee would determine if the conditions of employment improved or regressed and has the officer explained a vision for the future? As no two candidates are the same, each brings to the task a unique commitment and understanding of the role of representation to be judged by the electorate.
What does it take to get postal employees involved? If the most recent contract does not invigorate interest, APWU represented employees should consider a new form of union elections removing the members from the process. After 40 years of stability and with each contractual cycle building on the past, the 2010 contract created a whole new foundation of low wages, reduced the number of career positions, abandoned work in small offices and created a new definition of full time. Postal management publically boasted that the contract transferred four billion dollars from employees to management. To embrace this philosophy of change means that the next round of bargaining would include equal contractual modifications. The members either endorse the basic concept of those changes or reject them, but failure to vote means that it does not make a difference.
In the most recent election for the mayor of Los Angeles, a dismal 19% of the eligible voters participated in the election. The second largest city in the nation and only 19% of those eligible elected to have a voice in the selection process for the most powerful position in the community. When subtracting citizens of voting age who are not registered to vote or are unqualified, of the total voting age population, fewer than 10% of the total citizens participated in the selection of their leader. This rate of participation makes a mockery of the democratic process. I would welcome suggestions that would include greater participation by those governed, but until we adopt a better system we have a lot of room to improve. It is not too much to expect that we can reverse the statistics and 70% of the eligible voters will vote, instead of 70% not voting. Will you be among them?