(This article first appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)
Members have legitimate questions and deserve factual answers. “Why are we facing interest arbitration for a new contract when there was a tentative agreement?” “What was in it?” “Why didn’t I get a vote?” “When am I receiving raises and my next COLA?”
Some background: As lead negotiator, my goal was to find a principled path to a negotiated contract, thus keeping members in control of our destiny. The National Negotiating Committee believed the best path forward was to seek a two-year extension of the 2015-2018 union contract. Last December, the APWU and USPS reached a “Tentative Agreement” (TA) that extended the contract, until September 20, 2020, with some work-rule changes.
Question #1: What were its general terms?
Answer: The TA protected and retained the crucial: no layoff provisions; 50-mile limit on excessing employees; all-career maintenance workforce; elimination of MVS PSEs except for new work; moratorium on expanding retail contract stations; small office local memo; ban on subcontracting PVS (driver) jobs; the residual vacancy memo that so far has led to 60,000 PSE conversions to career. Also, for the first time in eight years, no increase in employee percentages of health insurance premiums.
The wage package for the first year of the TA included a retroactive 1.3% wage increase in Nov. 2018, plus two 2019 COLAs. (COLA is often greater than wage increases.
The last 1.3% raise combined with two COLAs represented a 3.6% annual increase in pay. The 2019 COLA negotiated in the TA is estimated to be over $800/year.) A 2.3% PSE wage increase in Nov. 2018 and an additional 20 cents/hour increase effective May 2019 (PSEs receive no COLA).
We rejected management’s unacceptable second year wage proposals and opted for a “wage re-opener” (not uncommon in union contracts) in September 2019. If a secondyear wage agreement was reached, it would be sent to membership ratification. If no agreement was reached, only the second-year compensation package would be resolved in interest arbitration, thus skillfully avoiding placing job security, rights and other benefits at risk.
Question #2: What other changes were agreed to?
Answer: A guaranteed one-day off per week for PTFs and PSEs; A new top step (worth $1,100/year) for “Schedule Two” custodial pay scales; Full custodial staffing and protection of overtime as a condition for allowing management to exempt some “line H” hours due to long-term absences required by law (such as military leave) or Article 12 withholding of vacancies required by union contract to limit excessing; Strengthening the “Filling of Residual Vacancies” Memo including voluntary PTF movement within 50 miles to unfilled vacancies; The use of a “substitute” PSE only when the assigned PSE (“81-4”) window clerk was unavailable and a career clerk absent; When regular clerk(s) were absent and hub clerks unavailable, the 15hrs/week of allowable bargaining unit work by Level 18 postmasters could vary week to week, not to exceed 60 hours over a set four-week period; a Memorandum aimed at eliminating hostile work environments.
Question #3: Why didn’t members get to vote?
Answer: I believed the tentative agreement was great for job security (according to polling, the most important concern of our members) and good for your pocketbook. It was certainly worthy of your vote to decide what was in your own best interests. The constitutionally mandated Rank and File Bargaining Advisory Committee decides if the TA is sent to the members for their ratification vote and rejected doing so. Their action canceled the entire Tentative Agreement including the negotiated raises and COLAs.
Question #4: What now?
Answer: The terms of the new contract will be determined by an interest arbitration proceeding, expected to be completed by the end of the year. Your leadership will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to win retroactive pay raises, COLAs and the decent union contract you’ve earned and deserve. We will keep you updated as “The Struggle Continues…!!”