The current leadership of the American Postal Workers Union is rushing to crank up support for a tentative contract announced last week with the U.S. Postal Service. But one member of the nation’s largest postal union has already made up his mind.
“I have been honored to have the opportunity to devote over 50 years of my professional life to improving conditions for postal employees and as a full dues-paying member and on behalf of future employees I would vote no,” former APWU President William Burrus wrote in an open letter posted on the web site, postalnewsblog.com
Burrus’ opposition centers around provisions that—by his calculations–would cost future USPS employees more than $8,000 per year each. Saying that she had not seen the letter, APWU spokeswoman Sally Davidow declined comment Monday both on its substance and on whether Burrus’ opposition could make it harder to persuade the APWU rank-and-file to ratify the new deal. In a brief phone interview, Burrus confirmed the letter’s authenticity, but declined further comment.
Announced March 14, the proposed 4-1/2 year contract has already gotten the unanimous blessings of the APWU’s national executive board and its rank-and-file bargaining advisory committee, according to the union’s web site. The actual ratification vote will be scheduled once the agreement is printed, Davidow said, and should come within the next two months.
Burrus, who retired late last year after nine years as the union’s president, has never been shy in the self-expression department. (He famously once referred to large mailers as “vermin.”) How much weight his opposition to the proposed contract will now carry with APWU members is unclear, but it certainly doesn’t make life any easier for his successor, Cliff Guffey.
It’s also typical of the tensions that flare when unions accept two-tier arrangements that favor the interests of existing members over those of future hires. In the case of the new Postal Service contract, for example, layoff protections would apply only to employees on the job as of Nov. 20 of last year, according to a summary released by the APWU. The tentative agreement would also mean lower starting salaries for new workers and keep them from earning the maximum now enjoyed by current employees, the summary indicates.
At the same time, the union did succeed in preserving across-the-board pay increases and cost-of-living adjustments, although there would be no COLA this year and the 2012 adjustment would be pushed back a year. Considering that the Postal Service lost a record $8.5 billion last year, that can be seen as no mean feat. Whether a majority of APWU members will see it that way, though, is probably anyone’s guess.