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Why America Cannot Afford to Let the U.S. Postal Service Go Bankrupt

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Bill Boone was a fresh-faced 23-year-old in 1952 when he cast his first ballot for U.S. president, while proudly serving aboard an aircraft carrier off the coast of Korea.

The U.S. Postal Service carried that vote untold miles to the election board in Boone’s hometown of Benton, Arkansas, and he’s considered “the mail” an essential part of life ever since.

Today, the 90-year-old retired Steelworker relies on the postal service to deliver his medicines, Social Security checks and letters from relatives. A dedicated letter carrier even walks the mail up the driveway—past the mailbox—to Boone’s front door.

“I told him, ‘You can’t retire until I die,’” Boone said.

The postal service delivers to every U.S. address, no matter how isolated, and charges consistent, reasonable rates to all customers. It’s a lifeline for military members and the elderly. It keeps commerce humming and the country connected.

Americans love the postal service. Yet Donald Trump wants to kill it.

The postal service lost billions of dollars as businesses scaled back operations or closed during the pandemic. The agency usually supports itself with sales of stamps and other products. But now, without as much as $75 billion in emergency federal aid, it will go bankrupt in months.

Americans under stay-at-home orders, with limited access to stores and restaurants, need the postal service more than ever. They overwhelmingly support saving it.

But Trump refuses to help unless the agency quadruples rates on packages it delivers for Amazon and other companies. Because Amazon, UPS, and FedEx won’t deliver to some addresses, such as those in rural areas, they often rely on the postal service to carry packages the so-called “last mile” to a recipient’s door.

If the postal service raised rates, these companies would merely pass along the higher costs to their customers. And many Americans, like the 30 million or so who just lost their jobs because of the pandemic, can’t afford that.

The death of the postal service would deprive Americans of a way to vote, pay bills, apply for passports, get prescriptions, send letters, receive tax refunds, collect Social Security and ship items ranging from gold bars to cremated remains.

It would threaten the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, a law-enforcement agency that investigates narcotics trafficking, identify theft and other crimes.

And if the postal service vanished, so would the army of letter carriers who keep tabs on elderly residents, call the fire department when they smell smoke on their routes and generally serve as unofficial neighborhood watchmen.

“I just can’t believe the government would think about shutting down the postal service,” said Boone, who worked at Reynolds Metals Company for nearly 30 years and at Alcoa for 10 more.

“It would be kind of like living without people picking up your trash. In fact, it’s just not an issue that Congress or anybody should have to discuss.”

If Trump kills the postal service, people in remote areas—such as the 272 customers along a 191-mile rural delivery route in Montana and other Americans whom letter carriers now reach by mule, snowmobile and boat—would face higher rates from private shipping companies.

If they could get service at all.

“If private enterprise took over, I think it would be a lot more expensive, and our rural delivery would probably just evaporate,” said Mike Harkin, a longtime member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 310L in Des Moines, Iowa. “I’d probably have to drive to town every time to mail stuff.”

Harkin, a Firestone retiree and member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR), seldom sees FedEx and UPS trucks on his rural road miles from the small town of Woodward.

But the mail truck is another story. Harkin says his letter carrier will gladly drive packages up his quarter-mile-long driveway if they’re too big for the mailbox.

Although the postal service hemorrhaged money during the pandemic, it’s worked hard to keep America functioning through the crisis.

In addition to the regular mail, it delivers surveys for the critically important 2020 census. It brings masks, sanitizers, toilet paper and other pandemic staples that Americans order online. It accommodates small companies trying to stay afloat by conducting more mail-order business during the crisis.

In March, Trump signed a pandemic stimulus package with money for hospitals, aid for businesses and checks of up to $1,200 for individual taxpayers. The postal service delivers those checks, which Trump insisted bear his own signature.

Postal workers pay a heavy price for their dedication. Hundreds have been sickened by COVID-19. Dozens died.

By keeping post offices open and the mail flowing, the postal service provides a rare dose of normalcy during the pandemic.

And the agency’s importance is growing. Come November, American democracy may depend on it.

More and more Americans want the federal government to make mail-in balloting a universal option because they fear catching the coronavirus at polling places.

They worry about standing in lines when public health experts stress the need for social distancing. They don’t want to touch the door handles at polling places or push buttons on voting machines, knowing the coronavirus can live on surfaces.

Boone says nothing will stop him from voting on November 3. He’ll go to the polls if he must but would feel more comfortable casting his ballot by mail for the first time since his Navy days nearly seven decades ago.

It isn’t just voters who are concerned. Some states fear they’ll have a difficult time finding poll workers, who are predominately elderly.

Only if Americans have the option of voting by mail can the nation ensure a viable turnout in a critically important election. That means saving the postal service.

Right now, Trump is among a minority of Americans who fail to see the postal service for the bargain it is. “I’d be lost without it,” Harkin said.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute on May 8, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).


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Postal Workers Face the Pandemic as the Service Struggles Financially; Amazon Workers Protest

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Jonathan Tasini - Home | Facebook

Here’s a little riddle: What has 157 million daily delivery points, 35,000 offices and 500,000 workers? It’s your U.S. Postal Service, that would be the service that really is a democratic, small “d”, institution—it’s there for everyone at a reasonable cost, no matter where you live or who you are.

Putting it mildly, postal workers are frontline workers—and to pile the safety and health dangers on top of everything else, the service is facing a massive budget hole because of the collapse of the economy because, obviously, less commerce means a lot less stuff being sent via the postal service which relies on fees. I go in-depth on what’s happening to postal workers with the Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union.

And Jeff Bezos is up to his usual despicable behavior—the wealthiest human on the planet is piling up more money but at the expense of the safety and health of Amazon’s warehouse workers who are getting sick from COVID-19. Hundreds of Amazon workers stayed away from work yesterday to protest the dangerous conditions. Rachel Belz, an Amazon worker, joins me to discuss the uprising.

This article was originally published at WorkingLife on April 22, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jonathan Bernard Yoav Tasini is an American political strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor and the economy.


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The Head of the Postal Workers Union Says the Postal Service Could Be Dead in Three Months

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Among the most prominent victims of the coronavirus financial crisis is the United States Postal Service, which could quite literally run out of money to operate if the federal government does not approve a rescue package for it soon. The Trump administration—which, like much of the GOP, has long advocated for cutbacks and privatization of the postal service—actively prevented the USPS from being bailed out in the CARES Act, even as Donald Trump has made a show of publicly thanking Fedex and UPS for their work. Not very subtle. 

Fifty years ago last month, U.S. postal workers staged an unprecedented and historic eight-day strike, backing down the Nixon administration and winning the right to collective bargaining. A half century later, Mark Dimondstein, the leader of the 200,000-strong American Postal Workers Union, says that Republicans are using today’s crisis as an opportunity to destroy the postal service as a public entity once and for all. In These Times spoke to Dimondstein about the existential peril facing postal workers, and what they plan to do about it. 

What specifically are you asking for from Congress right now? 

Mark Dimondstein: The pandemic is having a huge economic impact on mail. The Post Office is not taxpayer funded, so it normally runs on revenue from postage and services. And if 40 to 50% of that dries up in this pandemic—which is what looks like it’s happening, in a very quick and precipitous way—then that money has to be made up. So the Postal Board of Governors is asking for $25 billion for relief, and another $25 billion for modernization, which gives them money to modernize the fleet. This is a relief for every single person in the country. It’s not a relief for a private entity. 

We had bipartisan support for some real relief [in the CARES Act], and it was actually stopped by Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin, representing this administration. 

What do you think is the source of the Republican hostility towards rescuing the Post Office?

Dimondstein: I think it’s pretty straightforward. In June of 2018, an Office of Management and Budget report—that’s the White House—openly called for an opportunity to sell off the Post Office to private corporations. Their agenda is to enrich a few of their private sector friends at the expense of the people of our country. 

What makes it even more shameful is, we have massive unemployment at a rate that’s never been seen, even during the Great Depression of the 1930s. And there are 600,000 good, living-wage jobs in the Post Office. That they would dare come after these jobs makes it much more shameful. 

The underlying thing is, they’re coming after a right of the people. If the Post Office is privatized and sold off to private corporations, then who gets mail will depend on who we are, where we live, and how much it would cost. 

How urgent is the situation at the Post Office right now? If the rescue package doesn’t happen, when could people start seeing an impact on their mail? 

Dimondstein: The Post Office has done some modeling, so there are estimates of what would happen. Some time between July and September, the Post Office will likely run out of money. And when they run out of money, their operations will cease. There isn’t any way to put fuel in the trucks, there isn’t any way to pay workers, there isn’t any way to keep the lights on. 

We had bipartisan support in the House and Senate [to fund the Post Office in the CARES Act]. And a Wall Street, Goldman Sachs Secretary of the Treasury said to both parties,”You will not have an incentive package that the Post Office is in.” Even though they gave $500 billion to the private sector. So we have to flip it. We now need Congress to tell Mnuchin, “There will be no incentive package that you want without the Post Office in it.” 

Are you afraid that they might try to come after your collective bargaining rights as some sort of tradeoff? 

Dimondstein: The presidential task force that Mnuchin headed up actually called for an end to our collective bargaining rights. So that’s on their agenda too. Since 2010, our workers made great sacrifices, and made huge concessions worth billions and billions of dollars a year to the Post Office. So we’ll vigorously oppose any effort to tie any strings to it—no strings should be tied to anything that happened Covid-related. 

You’ve got postal workers on the front lines, doing essential work. We’ve had over 30 postal workers die from the coronavirus. Thousands have been sick, thousands more have been quarantined. And they’re gonna talk about coming after our wages and benefits? No way. 

Your union has a fairly large membership. Since you find yourself in this borderline existential situation right now, are there any more militant actions you might take as a union, if it comes down to life or death for the Post Office? 

Dimondstein: We haven’t given a lot of thought to that right now. Right now we’re focused on worker health and safety primarily, and focused on getting Congress to do the right thing. In terms of how people will react if Congress doesn’t, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But I am sure that workers will be highly upset. Their families will be highly upset. Their communities will be highly upset. And I would think that certainly there would be escalating efforts on the part of the people of this country to make sure that the Post Office is saved.

I want to mention one other thing: The whole question of whether the ballot is going to be protected. Here you have a situation where people are unable to come vote physically. Poll workers are unable to come and be safe in their civic duties. Poll by mail is safe, there’s a paper trail, it’s working in states that do it by law, it’s working in states that do it voluntarily. It increases participation. And look, there are those in this country who would rather not have people coming to the ballot box. The work of the ballot box is largely going to become the mail. So again, the public Post Office is the civic life of this country. 

Your union endorsed Bernie. What are your thoughts on how the primary turned out?

Dimondstein: I think Senator Sanders did a terrific job over the last number of years, 2016 and 2020, boldy raising issues that needed to be raised. And that’s why people responded so well. Sanders has raised up single-payer healthcare, i.e. Medicare for All. It was a fringe issue. Now it’s not a fringe issue. Look at what this pandemic says to us: We live in a society. If we’re going to be healthy, everybody has to have health insurance. If you’re sick, guess what? You may give it to somebody else. 

I think what happened was, and Sanders put it this way himself: He lost the electability argument. That’s unfortunate, because I think Sanders was the most electable. I think this pandemic underscores that we have to have a more collective, take-care-of-each-other approach, whether it’s on paid sick leave, whether it’s on Medicare for All, whether it’s on child care, whether it’s on the ability of the federal government–I mean, the idea that this government couldn’t figure out in advance to have tests for people, and to be able to get it done quickly? That’s an absurdity. 

What do you think this crisis is going to mean for the labor movement going forward? Will it damage unions, or will it be a big opportunity? 

Dimondstein: If we’re really gonna be a movement, I think this is the time when workers are saying to each other, “We have to have a true voice at work.” Workers all over this country are absolutely vulnerable in this pandemic. I think it’s a valuable lesson for workers of this country that we need stronger unions, and we need stronger societal and collective benefits. 

I would hope—and there’s certainly some sentiment out there, in the articles I’ve been reading, from the Instacart workers, to the Walmart workers, the Amazon workers, all sorts of warehouse workers and so on—that they have felt much more vulnerable without having an organization to defend themselves. 

The labor movement has to act like a movement. The labor movement needs to be much more clearly, in my view, fighting for all workers, whether they’re in unions or not. That means fighting for societal-based health insurance, not employer-based health insurance. Societal-based sick leave, not employer-based sick leave. The AFL-CIO and the other unions have a great opportunity to be at the forefront of the entire working class in those negotiations.

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


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Coronavirus is endangering the postal service when we need vote by mail. Congress needs to act now

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Congress is failing the U.S. Postal Service, again, and with it, the nation. USPS warned recently that it could run out of money to operate by June because of the massive fall in the level of mail being sent during coronavirus business closures. Democrats tried to include money in the recent stimulus, but the only help that ended up in the final bill was $10 billion in loans that are subject to approval by the Treasury Department.

The decline in mail being sent doesn’t mean mail is less important—it means, in large part, that the people who rely most on mail are now the most vulnerable people. People who need their prescription medications. People who live in rural areas not well served by other delivery services. But democracy also needs the mail. Vote by mail will be more important than ever if COVID-19 remains a threat in the fall.

Millions of people vote by mail, with some states having universal vote-by-mail and many others allowing absentee voting by mail. That’s something we need to expand, not endanger by weakening the USPS.

We’re also talking about an organization that employs 630,000 people. One in five is African American and more than 100,000 are veterans. Every day, postal workers are risking their health by going to work to make sure we get our mail. More than 100 have tested positive for COVID-19 and one has died.

And while the USPS is in crisis, that crisis was manufactured by Republicans. Congress does not allow the postal service to compete with private business—and then it comes under attack for not being profitable. Your local post office should be a center for services like faxing, notary publics, hunting and fishing licenses, and more. Sen. Bernie Sanders has been a longtime champion of the USPS, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren has pushed for postal banking, which would not only give the post office a boost but would connect low-income people with nonpredatory banking.

The coronavirus crisis should be making us see that we need more public goods, not allow the ones we have to die off—or be killed by Republicans for whom that’s long been a goal. The USPS needs funding now.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on March 31, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Postal Service plans to slash worker benefits, this week in the war on workers

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ongress has put strict limits on the U.S. Postal Service to prevent it from entering the 21st century or competing with private businesses, and now the Postal Service wants Congress to let it compete in the race to the bottom. HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney and Dave Jamieson reported this week on internal documents proposing that Congress allow the Postal Service to save money by cutting worker benefits and expanding its temp workforce.

Postal workers would lose retirement security under the plan, with new workers shifted from a pension to a 401(k) model and existing workers’ pension contributions raised (money that would come out of their take-home pay). Retired workers’ health care would also see changes, and active workers would likely lose paid leave.

The addition of more people in the “non-career workforce,” AKA temps, would come on top of the fact that the agency “has already added 37,000 non-career employees since 2007, while shedding nearly 200,000 career employees through attrition, according to the document.”

And, of course, the Postal Service continues to look at cutting back on deliveries as another way to save money … while setting off a downward spiral as reduced services lead to reduced reliability and demand.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

 


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Postal Service Drops Staples Privatization Effort

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The Postal Service’s experimental “pilot program” in privatizing the retail end of the USPS using Staples outlets has failed and ended. The “Grand Alliance to Save Our Postal Service” has forced the USPS to back off from partnering with Staples in their effort to privatize and undermine the wages and jobs of USPS employees.

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) reports that the “Approved Shipper” program will end operations in Staples stores by the end of February,

Postal management informed the APWU in writing that the “Approved Shipper” program in Staples stores will be shut down by the end of February 2017. This victory concludes the APWU’s three-year struggle. The boycott against Staples is over!

“I salute and commend every member and supporter who made this victory possible,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “I never doubted that if we stayed the course, stuck together and kept the activist pressure on, we would win this fight.”

Bloomberg has the story, in U.S. Postal Service Drops Service at Staples Amid Union Pressure,

Following union-backed boycotts and an adverse labor board ruling, the United States Postal Service has agreed to curb a controversial arrangement allowing private employees to provide its services at Staples Inc. stores.

USPS spokeswoman Darlene Casey told Bloomberg that the Postal Service would end its relationship with Staples in order to comply with a National Labor Relations Board judge’s ruling.

NLRB Ruling Came On Top Of Labor And Public Opposition And Boycott

The immediate cause of the USPS decision was an order from the National Labor Relations Board, but the bigger picture was labor and public opposition to privatization, including a “Stop Staples” Staples boycott. The Washington Post explains, in U.S. Postal Service to halt retail sales at Staples stores after union complaints,

The move resulted from a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) order issued on Wednesday. The board adopted an administrative law judge’s ruling from November. It “requires the Postal Service to discontinue its retail relationship with Staples,” said Darlene Casey, a Postal Service spokeswoman. “The Postal Service intends to comply with that order.” USPS could have appealed, but decided not to fight.

APWU initiated the NLRB complaint against the Postal Service for improperly subcontracting work to Staples that could have been done by postal employees. But while the NLRB order was the direct link to the program’s downfall, APWU President Mark Dimondstein said that legal tactic was just one part of a larger strategy that included demonstrations, educating customers and attending company stockholder meetings.

A Big Win

The Washington Post story quotes APWU President Mark Diamond stein, explaining that this is a “big win”,

“This is a big win,” Dimondstein said. “Staples is out of the mail business which they should never have gotten into. Our members take great pride in their training and their responsibilities; they swear an oath; they perform a public service. The quality of service at a Staples store isn’t comparable. The public should have confidence in the mail. Important letters, packages and business correspondences shouldn’t be handled like a ream of blank paper.”

“This is also a win for those who care about the neighborhood post office,” his statement continued, “and for all those in our society who think that workers should earn a fair living wage with decent health care and a pension, rather than the Staples model of minimum wage, part-time hours and no benefits.”

Postal Professionals vs Low-Age Retail Employees

One of the objections to Staples stores handling mail was the need for well-trained professionals to handle mail services. An Inspector General conducted an audit of the “Approved Shipper Program” and as the Bloomberg report put it,

The audit found that the Postal Service lost revenue due to participants incorrectly accepting boxes with insufficient postage, that clerks at the private retailers often didn’t complete certified mail forms correctly, and that “shippers are still not complying with mail security requirements.”

It Takes A Coalition

This victory for postal workers shows how coalitions like the “Grand Alliance to Save Our Postal Service” can achieve things for working people. According to APWU,

Many national unions endorsed the boycott including large teacher unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). The other postal unions enthusiastically supported the campaign. The 12 million worker-strong AFL-CIO added Staples to their official boycott list. UNI the Global Union, an international union association, endorsed the Staples boycott urging all of the affiliated unions throughout the world to put pressure on Staples, since the company does business in 26 countries. Dozens of state AFL-CIO federations, local unions, Central Labor Councils, community allies and city councils passed resolutions endorsing the boycott.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on January 9, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

 


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Postal Workers To Rally Against TPP Tuesday

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The 200,000-member American Postal Workers Union (APWU) is holding its biennial convention in Orlando this week. As part of that convention, there will be a rally to publicize opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The rally will take place Tuesday, August 23 at 3:30 pm beginning in the Hemisphere Ballroom of Orlando’s Dolphin Hotel.

APWU President Mark Dimondstein made the following statement when announcing the rally:

“Postal workers are a proud part of a global grass-roots movement in opposing this devious, corporate-backed deal which would hurt workers and the environment in 12 different countries — if allowed to go forward. Like NAFTA and other hard-sold multinational deals, the TPP was negotiated in secret and has very little to do with trade between nations. It’s about increasing the power of multinational corporations to dictate our future, and it’s about taking away the rights of citizens and workers to advocate for a better quality of life.”

“The TPP is an attack on working people – including U.S. postal workers. We’re rallying in Orlando to make sure politicians from both parties hear us loud and clear and we’re going to head back to every zip code from Orlando with a message that the TPP needs to be blocked. Republicans and Democrats must listen to grass-roots activists across the political spectrum, vote down the TPP and get to work on an economic and environmental agenda that is fair to workers in all countries.”

Background

TPP is an agreement between 12 Pacific-region nations, but other nations like China will be able to join later. TPP is called a “trade” agreement, even though most of the sections of the agreement are about things like allowing investors to sue governments for laws and regulations that infringe on their profits, granting monopolies to giant pharmaceutical companies, and “intellectual property” rights.

The agreement was negotiated and written in secrecy, largely by past, present and future representatives of corporations. It places corporate “rights” above governments, as well as above the “rights” of working people and the environment. For example, corporate investors can sue governments for what they consider to be violations of the agreement that hurt their profits, and the suits are judged by corporate attorneys. There is no appeal and the sovereign, established court systems of the counties in the agreement are prohibited from interfering.But labor, environmental, consumer or any other “stakeholder” group have no such recourse if they feel their rights are being violated.

OurFuture’s June 2015 post, “Will TPP Kill The Post Office?”, noted that then then-secret TPP could be a problem for the US Postal Service in particular. From that post:

As if we needed yet another reason for the public to see the text of TPP before Congress preapproves it with fast track, here is a question: Does the TPP contain provisions that corporations can use to force us to privatize “public” things like our Post Office, public schools, public roads etc., so they can replace them with profit-making enterprises that provide a return only to the wealthy few?

We need to see the provisions of TPP that are designed to regulate “state-owned enterprises” (SOEs) and see them now.

Now We Know

TPP is no longer secret. Now the peasants are at last begrudgingly allowed to know what is in the “agreement.” Now we know that TPP has rules preventing governments (We the People) from “competing” with private corporations. This means that private corporations receive the return from the economy, while We the People are prohibited from just doing things for ourselves.

While continuation of the US Postal Service as presently constituted is written into TPP, the “trade” agreement could prohibit We the People from deciding we want it to do things like postal banking,  and other things we might want to do to benefit ourselves.

As the June, 2015 post noted:

Today corporations and investors consider our highways to be “commercial activity” and are competing to turn such roads into private business. There is a corporate movement battling to privatize our public schools and turn those into corporate profit centers. Private companies are trying to get (and many have gotten) the right to deliver our water instead of publicly owned municipal systems. Many municipalities have already turned over garbage collection to private companies, thereby impoverishing the workforce. Would it be a surprise to find that the corporations have inserted provisions into TPP demanding privatization of the Postal Service, schools, roads and anything else the public currently runs?

Ask any conservative and they will likely tell you that anything a government does to make people’s lives better only interferes with “the market.” They will tell you our public, “government” schools should be privatized. They will tell you that the Post Office needs to go away. They hate Amtrak, public broadcasting, the Export-Import Bank and, public transit. They certainly hate public health care. Many will even say that we shouldn’t have public parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone. They have even privatized prisons.

TPP Coming Up For A Rigged Vote Unless We Stop It

Back when We the People were still not allowed to know what was in TPP, a provision called “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) was passed by Congress. Fast track TPA rigged the rules of Congress to grease the skids for TPP when it comes up for a vote, which looks like it will be in the “lame duck” session of Congress after the November elections and before the new Congress is sworn in.

It is possible to stop TPP if we can convince enough members of the House of Representatives to go on record now as opposing it. To help with this, see last week’s post,“These Are Your 28 TPP House Democrat Targets”:

President Obama is trying to get a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the “lame duck” session of Congress that will take place after the election. We can help stop this by getting enough Democrats on the record as opposing the TPP.

In particular, we need to get the 28 Democrats who – in spite of opposition from most Democrats and hundreds of labor, consumer, LGBT, health, human rights, faith, democracy and other civil organizations – voted for the “fast-track” trade promotion authority (TPA) bill that “greased the skids” for the TPP by setting up rigged rules that will help TPP pass.

Now, along with all of those voters and organizations, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the rest of us need to start working on getting those 28 Democrats to oppose a vote after the election.

Call your Representative and say, “No to TPP!”

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on August 22, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.


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Postal Workers Fend Off Attacks in New Contract

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Alexandra BradburyThis article was first posted at Labor Notes.

They didn’t end three-tier in a single blow. But in a new contract covering 200,000 members, the American Postal Workers Union made serious headway and fended off most concessionary demands, including the Postal Service’s effort to create yet another tier.
The union entered bargaining with little obvious leverage. It was up against a management that’s been openly collaborating with postal unions’ Congressional foes to push a frenzy of cuts—slashing delivery standards, shutting down mail plants,privatizing work, and selling off post offices to real estate sharks.

Postal workers can’t legally strike. If the union and management don’t reach a deal, an arbitrator writes the contract—which is what finally happened. Arbitrator Stephen Goldberg announced the results July 8.

He stopped short of eliminating the three-tier system, as the union had proposed. But the new contract shrinks the number of bottom-tier workers and improves their situation, while defending the traditional raises and no-layoff protection for the two upper tiers.

New York City mail processing clerk Carl Ross was riding the train to work when he read the results on his cell phone. “I think I screamed out loud,” he said. “It’s gone a long way towards making Postal Support Employees feel like they’re part of the U.S. Postal Service.”

The Postal underclass

Postal Support Employees (PSEs) are the worst-off members of the APWU, stuck in an indefinite temporary status. Since the last contract in 2010, all new hires have landed in this limbo.

They do the same jobs right alongside traditional career employees, but receive lower wages and minimal benefits. And their temporary status means PSEs always have to fear for their jobs—so management can squeeze more work and “flexibility” out of them. “You go wherever the management wind takes you,” Ross said.

He’s one of many union members who traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify to the arbitrator about working conditions. Six-day weeks and forced overtime every night are routine for PSEs in his facility, he said. Workweeks range from 50 to 70 hours.

“I come to work to provide a better life for my family,” Ross said, “not to forsake my family for the job.”

The old contract laid out a process to convert PSEs who were working full-time hours into career positions eventually, based on seniority. But management always dragged its heels, said Ross, a steward. It pushed each grievance to national arbitration, stalling results for months or more.

So the number of PSEs has hovered near the contractual limits—till now, up to 10 percent of all workers in motor vehicles and maintenance, and 20 percent of clerks. In negotiations, the Postal Service sought to add even more.

Steps forward

Instead, the new contract mandates that thousands will be converted to career positions by September 3. In the maintenance and motor vehicle crafts, with the conversion of all 3,500 PSEs, the category will vanish entirely. New hires in those crafts will go right into career status.

Not so in the union’s biggest craft, clerks, which includes workers at post office retail windows as well as those who process the mail in sorting plants. A thousand of the longest-serving clerks will be converted, leaving 27,000 PSEs.

These remaining temps will get a cumulative raise of 7 percent plus 50 cents an hour during the three-year agreement, plus access to Postal Service health benefits, six paid holidays (they had zero; career employees get 10), and for retail clerks, a uniform allowance.

The new holiday pay hit home for Ross. Last Christmas he was made to work a 12-hour shift, without it.

Other contract highlights include a one-year moratorium on further outsourcing of postal retail work (Staples, the target of a union boycott over its grab of APWU work, isn’t affected), a hold on plant closings at least through April 2017, and a bar on further subcontracting of motor vehicle work.

On the minus side, employees’ share of health insurance premiums will go up—the one major concession management got.

How they did it

What worked? One factor was a change in attitude at union headquarters. The last contract was settled without arbitration, when the previous officers agreed to the three-tier system.

Angry at the giveaways in that deal, members unseated their top officers in 2013, voting in a slate of activists who pledged to “stop the bleeding” by involving members and resisting concessions.

This time the Postal Workers held out against management’s demands through a year and a half of bargaining, mediation, and arbitration. “We could have settled for a new contract last year,” President Mark Dimondstein wrote in a message to members. “But it would not have been an agreement acceptable or fair to you, the member.”

On the job, workers built pressure by wearing union shirts and buttons every Thursday with the message “Good Postal Service! Good Jobs! Good Contract!” To bosses, even a simple disruption of routine can be unnerving. Managers in San Francisco soon showed their ruffled feathers—they distributed official T-shirts and told workers to wear those on Thursdays instead. Some workers refused; others gamely put on management’s shirts, but decked them out with union buttons and stickers.

As the contract expiration neared last year, the union organized a day of action, holding “I Stand with Postal Workers” rallies in 130 locations around the country. Members handed out leaflets, talked with customers about the union’s plan to defend and expand postal services, and gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures on support postcards mailed to the Postmaster General.

Once arbitration began, the union brought dozens of workers to D.C. to testify about their on-the-job concerns. Goldberg wrote that especially “the impassioned testimony of the PSEs” moved him to reject the Postal Service’s push to expand the temp category any further.

“For the first time, I felt included in my own future at the Postal Service,” Ross said. “That I had some contribution to making a better life for thousands of employees across the country—it’s actually quite humbling.”

A house divided

A half-million postal workers make up the nation’s biggest unionized workforce, split among four unions.

The biggest are the APWU and the Letter Carriers (NALC), whose members deliver letters and packages door to door in cities. Smaller unions represent Rural Carriers and Mail Handlers, the latter a division of the Laborers union.

After the APWU agreed to three tiers in its 2010 contract, the Postal Service went after the other three unions for the same concessions. The Letter Carriers and Mail Handlers fought it to arbitration. In the end arbitrators imposed tiers, although both unions got better deals for their middle tiers than the APWU did—lower starting pay than first-tier workers, but the same top pay.

And all the unions ended up funneling their new hires into third-tier perma-temp categories, similar to PSEs: City Carrier Assistant, Mail Handler Assistant, and Rural Carrier Associate.

The APWU contract results are sure to loom large in the bargaining now underway for the Letter Carriers and Mail Handlers. The Rural Carriers have already settled their contract, agreeing to continue the tiered system—a fact that arbitrator Goldberg cited in his decision to impose the same on the APWU.

The relationship among the four unions had been testy since the ’90s. Leaders officially buried the hatchet in 2014 with the proclamation of a Postal Union Alliance.

The division “allows management to play one union against the other,” Dimondstein wrote. “We would be much stronger in future negotiations if all postal workers were united in one big postal union.”

UPS-set

A factor Goldberg weighed heavily was the poor standards at the Postal Service’s most obvious competitors. The law instructs arbitrators that postal workers’ pay and benefits should be comparable to the private sector.

In its successful case to preserve the PSE tier for clerks, management leaned on evidence that at UPS and FedEx, retail and mail processing workers earn even lower wages.

It’s no wonder that FedEx workers and retail workers at UPS are low-paid, since they’re nonunion. But it’s a scandal that the part-time union members who sort packages for UPS, a wildly profitable shipper, make so little per hour that they’re driving down standards in the public postal service. UPS new-hire sorters and loaders make $10 an hour and are guaranteed only three and a half hours of work a day.

For that, we can thank another union administration that’s gone along with tiers—the Teamsters. Members angry over contract givebacks there are running a reform slate for the union’s top offices this fall. A major theme in their campaign is the demand to end “part-time poverty” at UPS.

The APWU and UPS-Teamsters contracts will both expire in 2018. If reformers were at the helm in both unions, could we hope for a coordinated campaign to fight tiered pay in the entire package delivery industry?

This article originally appeared at Labor Notes, and Inthesetimes.com on August 15, 2016. reprinted with permission.

Alexandra Bradbury is a staff writer with Labor Notes.


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Postal Unions Set Day of Action to Protest Service Cuts, Mail Delays

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Image: Mike HallThe nation’s four postal unions are mobilizing a National Day of Action on Nov. 14, to send a powerful message to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and the United States Postal Service Board of Governor’s: Stop Delaying America’s Mail.

On Jan. 5, the USPS is poised to make devastating cuts in service to the American people – cuts so severe that they will forever damage the U.S. Postal Service, the union presidents said in an Oct. 16 letter to their members. According the unions:

  • The USPS is slated to lower “service standards” to virtually eliminate overnight delivery – including first-class mail from one address to another within the same city or town.
  • All mail – including medicine, online purchases, local newspapers, church bulletins, bill payments and sale notices – throughout the country will be delayed.
  • Beginning Jan. 5, 82 Mail Processing & Distribution Centers are scheduled to close or “consolidate operations.”

The service cuts, said the union leaders:

Will cause hardships for customers, drive away business, cause irreparable harm to the U.S. Postal Service, and lead to massive schedule changes and reassignments for employees. They are part of a flawed management strategy that has unnecessarily sacrificed service and failed to address the cause of the Postal Service’s manufactured financial crisis.

The four postal unions are the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), Letter Carriers (NALC), National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), Mail Handlers (NPMHU) and Rural Letter Carriers (NRLCA) .

This blog  originally appeared in AFL-CIO.org on October 29, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Political-Action-Legislation/Postal-Unions-Set-Day-of-Action-to-Protest-Service-Cuts-Mail-Delays.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.


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APWU Victory: 9,000 New Jobs

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Image: Mike HallSome 9,000 new postal clerk jobs are on the way, thanks to action by the American Postal Workers Union (APWU).  The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in 2012 cut the hours of operation at small post offices around the country and filled new jobs at the offices with part-time, nonunion workers. APWU filed a grievance.

The collective bargaining agreement between the union and USPS committed management to assign any newly created or revised retail positions that had no managerial or supervisory duties to union employees.

An arbitrator agreed with the APWU and a memorandum of understanding between the union and the USPS reached earlier this week outlines how those new jobs will be filled. Said APWU President Mark Dimondstein:

“The arbitration award…and the accompanying implementation memo mean thousands of jobs within 90 days—not years from now.”

This blog originally appeared on AFLCIO.org in their Blog Section on September 25, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Organizing-Bargaining/APWU-Victory-9-000-New-Jobs

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.


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