Ending two-tier wage system key Postal Workers goal in talks
American Postal Workers Union (APWU)

WASHINGTON—Eliminating yet another two-tier wage system and lifting the lowest ranks of its members out of the ranks of poverty-wage workers are among the key goals of the Postal Workers as they opened talks on June 25 on a new contract with the US Postal Service.

Any agreement, whether it’s achieved through collective bargaining, as APWU hopes, or by a pact which arbitrators impose, would be the largest single contract unions and bosses would achieve this year. The current contract, covering 190,000 workers, expires in September.

The two sides in the talks appeared to have a very different focus.

APWU President Mark Dimondstein emphasized raising wages, eliminating two tiers, and expanding the USPS into new lines of business to increase its revenues, He also pushed achieving safety, stability, and better working conditions for union members, including an end to a management culture of toleration or worse of bullying and harassment on the job.

“The two-tier structure” created by a concessionary contract in 2010 during the depths of the financier-caused Great Recession “makes it harder to hire and retain workers,” said Dimondstein. “We have to overcome some of the gaps created” then.

Other goals included “stronger safety rules” and “return of all retail sales to the clerical staff,” said Dimondstein. A prior Republican-named Postmaster General had conducted a short-lived experiment to have clerks at non-union Staples stores sell stamps. APWU successfully stopped that by convincing federal labor officials that Staples outsourcing violated the union contract.

Says the goal is to save the future

“This [contract] is going to be saving our futures, as well as the future of the Postal Service,” union Vice President Debbie Szeredy added.

Dimondstein had one final goal, which the Auto Workers unsuccessfully sought during their “Stand Up!” strike against the Detroit 3 automakers. “With all the technological changes” at the USPS, which Postmaster General Louis DeJoy brags about as ways to speed up the mail, “It’s time for a shorter workweek with no loss in pay,” Dimondstein said.

DeJoy, a GOP big giver and former package company CEO—whose first campaign contribution decades ago went to arch-racist Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C.—touted his “Delivering For America” plan to cut the USPS deficit while increasing its emphasis on packages, not first-class mail.

DeJoy, whom the GOP Trump regime foisted on the Postal Service around six years ago, conveniently didn’t mention the widespread criticism his plan has produced from customers, communities, unions—including APWU—and lawmakers.

DeJoy’s plan features sorting center closures and consolidations, long drives to pick up mail before carriers can even return to start their routes, and mass transfers and/or retirements of workers.

He even touted going to the White House to accept an award for modernizing the postal vehicle fleet—a longtime union goal—while conveniently staying silent about awarding a no-bid contract for building to a non-union firm, with no factory built yet in his native North Carolina, ignoring a ready and unionized (UAW) plant in Wisconsin.

DeJoy also wanted to have the Carolina company build gas-guzzlers. Public, union, and lawmaker pressure forced him to backtrack and agree to build electric vehicles for at least half the fleet.

APWU received massive and strong support the evening before bargaining began, during a mass nationwide zoomed rally of union members. Support came from, among others, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., Letter Carriers President Brian Renfroe, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and Secretary-Treasurer Fred Redmond, AFL-CIO Special Assistant Clayola Brown and Association of Flight Attendants/CWA President Sara Nelson.

“Our goals are essentially the same,” said Renfroe. “We have your backs,” Shuler added. Sanders and Nelson were, as usual, the most outspoken.

“We have fought against the shutting down” of post offices and sorting centers by DeJoy, said Sanders. “Despite all the right-wing attempts to dismantle and privatize the Postal Service, you have stood strong. So this I say, loud and clear, to Louis DeJoy: ‘Meet Postal Workers with the respect and dignity they deserve.’

“And don’t just pause your” Delivering For America “plan, dismantle it. Listen to your rank and file Postal Workers who are fighting to save the Postal Service. They’re sick and tired of being understaffed, overworked, and underpaid.”

The negotiations “should not be just about good jobs at the Postal Service, but about lifting up the entire working class,” Nelson declared. “This is a demand for job equality and security and making sure the profits from any productivity and innovations” improvements “go into your pockets, and not the bosses’ pockets.”

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.