Contract, saving the Postal Service
top rap session agenda
The critical imperative to save America's Postal Service was a theme that ran through just about every aspect of the NALC's 2011 National Rap Session in Las Vegas Oct. 14-16, from discussions of ongoing contract negotiations to our attempts to influence the legislative process.
||Attendees register for Saturday's workshops.
"As we get ready to bargain for a new contract in the worst economy in 80 years, and as we weather attacks from every angle imaginable, we have an urgent need to come together right now and plan our strategy for the future," NALC President Fredric V. Rolando said.
More than 1,500 branch and state leaders from all over the country gathered at the Planet Hollywood Hotel for a weekend of workshops and discussions about the present and future of the Postal Service.
The NALC Constitution calls for the union to hold a national meeting, better known as a "rap session," in the odd-numbered years between biennial national conventions. Rap sessions provide members with workshop learning opportunities as well as a chance to meet with national leaders to share strategies and concerns.
After an orderly registration and welcoming reception on Friday afternoon, members turned their attention to a number of key areas of concern during several workshops offered throughout the day on Saturday. Executive Vice President Tim O'Malley, Vice President George Mignosi and Director of Safety and Health Manuel Peralta facilitated a discussion of a number of local and national contract issues that have been grieved and/or resolved since the 2010 Convention in Anaheim. Next door, Director of City Delivery Lew Drass and members of the Contract Administration Unit conducted a competition designed to increase members' knowledge of the newly revised letter carrier guide.
|One of the many workshops held Saturday.
NALC Chief of Staff Jim Sauber and research staffer Stephen DeMatteo conducted a workshop on the postal financial crisis, while nearby, Secretary-Treasurer Jane Broendel and Assistant Secretary-Treasure Nicole Rhine went over the nuts and bolts of branch financial management and branch bylaws.
Director of Retired Members Ernie Kirkland helped a number of attendees gain a better understanding of the value of retirement planning. Legislative Director Jennifer Warburton and Director of Communications and Media Relations Phil Dine held a session designed to brief members on the NALC's legislative and media strategies.
Most workshops were repeated in the afternoon to give as many members a possible a chance to maximize their exposure to the topics presented. Consultant Ron Watson was on hand to train the union's regional administrative assistants on workers' compensation issues that letter carriers continue to face.
The challenges ahead
Sunday morning's three-hour rap session started off with a show of solidarity to President Rolando and the national Executive Council at this time of crisis by three former NALC presidents. Rap session participants were treated to speeches from all three: James Rademacher, who served as president from 1968 to 1977, a period that included the Great Postal Strike of 1970; Vincent Sombrotto, who rose from branch activist in New York during that strike to later serve as NALC president from 1979 to 2002; and William Young, Sombrotto's successor who helped lead the union in a successful bid to fight off the contracting out of letter carrier work to low-paid, non-represented part-time workers.
|From left, President Emeritus James Rademacher, Region 13 NBA Tim Dowdy, President Emeritus William Young, Region 11 NBA Dan Toth. President Emeritus Vincent Sombrotto and President Fredric V. Rolando.
Young passionately excoriated America's rich and powerful elite. "They have 93 percent of this country's wealth," he thundered, "and they want more! We have to fight to make sure we get our fair share."
Rademacher noted with pride how truly widespread the Sept. 27 "Save America's Postal Service" rallies had been, while Sombrotto said he wouldn't miss this opportunity to be with his second family of letter carriers.
"Like the late rock star Michael Jackson sang, Just call my name and I'll be there," an emotional Sombrotto said. "In the end, you will win your fight [to save the Postal Service] because you will make it your business to win."
"It is truly historic and fitting that these three men are here today," Rolando said, leading the assembly in a standing ovation and a "letter carrier cheer" of "Hip-hip-hooray!"
A manufactured crisis
"Letter carriers are out in force all across America telling the truth about the Postal Service," Rolando said to begin his keynote address.
||President Rolando delivers the keynote address..
"We've met with President Obama, Vice President Biden, Senate Majority Leader Reid, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, leaders in the House and Senate Democratic caucuses and White House staff," he said. "We rallied in every congressional district on Sept. 27.
"We've been on TV, the radio, in newspapers—and we've even made a commercial," he said, pausing to show the 30-second ad on the screens in the auditorium. "And we'll be doing more than that."
"Our message is this: That the truth is the Postal Service's cash crisis is a manufactured crisis, an excuse for our critics who would rather dismantle our business than grow it."
Rolando briefly outlined the 2006 postal reform mandate that has brought the Postal Service to its knees. "Pre-funding future retiree health benefits is a good idea—that is, if you have a surplus to work with," he said. "But we've only shown a $611 million profit over the last four years while we've depleted $8 billion in savings and $13 billion in our line of credit with the Treasury to make $21 billion in payments to pre-fund an account that now has $45 billion in it—none of it from taxes.
"No other federal agency or company is required to do this," he said. "And among the companies that voluntarily do it, their average account balance is much lower than ours.
The sensible things to do, he said, would be to stop making the pre-funding payments, replenish our borrowing authority with the Treasury, replenish our savings and allow the current $45 billion in pre-funding to stand.
"Once the USPS is profitable again," Rolando said, "we can resume a more reasonable pre-funding schedule."
The president noted how several independent actuaries agree that the Postal Service's account within the Civil Service Retirement Fund is fully funded with a surplus of $50 to $75 billion.
"And everyone agrees that the [Federal Employees Retirement System account] is fully funded and has a $6.9 billion surplus," Rolando said, drawing loud laughs when he added that House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) agrees.
"Further pre-funding of our future retiree health benefits is fiscally irresponsible," he said.
Rolando touted the Postal Service's universal delivery network. "We deliver the mail to 150 million addresses, six days a week," he said. "We've been the most trusted federal agency for six years in a row. We have the cheapest postage in the world. We deliver 40 percent of the world's mail. We're at the center of a $1.3 trillion mailing industry that supports between 8 million and 9 million jobs.
"Our network truly binds this nation together," he said. "Who else is first on the scene after devastating storms? What about Carrier Alert? Or our national food drive—the country's largest, now in its 20th year?
"We're in every neighborhood," he said, and we often double as police officers, firefighters and finders of lost children.
"There is no other comparable network in the U.S.," he said.
"Most of us are facing probably the worst atmosphere ever on the workroom floor," the president said. "And we're entering collective bargaining in the worst economy in 80 years.
|One of many standing ovations from the attendees.
We're dealing with excessing, he said, plus withholding, Carrier Optimal Routing issues, fixed start times and so-called "windows of operation," new Flats Sorting Systems and numerous ongoing contract violations.
"And yet, these are the least of our problems," Rolando said.
The big problem is that the Postal Service has no cash, and worse yet, no vision for the future.
"Their response? To attack workers, dismantle the service, attack collective-bargaining, push for layoffs and slash benefits," he said. "We're now trying to negotiate with a badly misguided employer in the worst economy in 80 years."
The NALC is also up against a Bush-appointed majority on the Postal Board of Governors, he said, plus an Office of Personnel Management that refuses to correct the pension overpayment problem, a media that is more interested in theater than facts, and a White House that has reversed its earlier position and now embraces five-day mail delivery.
"And we have a dysfunctional Congress," he said, "where evil flourishes while good languishes, and to get anything done in the Senate requires a filibuster-proof 60 votes instead of a simple majority."
There is some good and some bad coming out of the Senate, he said. "We supported some of [Sen. Tom] Carper's bill," Rolando said, "although thanks to the GAO report that he requested, he now shows signs of giving up on the over-funding issue.
Sen. Max Baucus' recently introduced bill more or less mirrors the House of Representatives measure introduced by Rep. Stephen Lynch in the spring, the president said, with added protection for rural post offices.
"And in a recent development, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has told us he wants to introduce a bill that contains all our priorities, and we're working with him on that now," Rolando said.
But over in the House, the Postal Service is up against an anti-worker and anti-government majority, he said.
"Congressman Lynch is still a friend," he said, "and we now have a bipartisan majority of 225 House members on H.R. 1351, thanks to you. And we also have support from Rep. Elijah Cummings.
"But then there's Congressman [Darrell] Issa's 'postal destruction act,'" Rolando said, which brought a chorus of boos from the assembly. "It has two co-sponsors, yet it's out of committee and on its way to the House floor."
There is some hope in the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction—the so-called "super committee," he said. "Getting six-day mail delivery attached to its deficit reduction or getting a continuing [budget] resolution that further defers our pre-funding obligation are our only hopes for true postal relief this year."
But the super committee is a double-edged sword, he said. "Access to our own money should be enough, but thanks to President Obama's proposal, five-day [mail delivery] is also on the table."
"We want our surpluses back so we can pay down our debts, we want access to our pre-funding account now, and we want to save six day delivery and small post offices," he said. "We need to let the super committee know that people and businesses think eliminating six-day delivery is wrong for the American people."
The next phase
"So what's next?" Roland asked. "Our first phase was the Sept. 27 Save America's Postal Service rallies." He presented a video that contained highlights of those rallies.
"We want to continue to build off these rallies," he said, "to take our message to the American people and deliver a strong message to Congress that America wants and deserves first-rate service six days a week."
With that, President Rolando announced that the NALC is launching a national petition drive.
The plan is to gather signatures amounting to 10 times your branch's size—for example, a branch of 500 would need to collect 5,000 signatures.
"We need to get all members of the branch involved," Rolando said. "Do it at the post office on your day off—or if you're a retiree, whenever you want."
He encouraged members to gather support from central labor councils, family members, at Sunday schools, malls and sports arenas.
"Each branch has until November 14," he said, "to organize events in high-profile areas and to recruit carriers to canvass neighborhoods."
The NALC's Department of Legislative and Political Affairs will track branch collection figures and send petitions to the appropriate congressional office, he said.
"Then, we'll place an ad in major newspapers and on super committee members' home turf, announcing the number of signatures that we've collected.
The bargaining environment
Rolando then turned to an update on the talks toward a new collective-bargaining agreement, which he kept brief due to the sensitive nature of the ongoing discussions. (The current agreement expires at midnight on Nov. 20.)
"Some things must exist in the next agreement," he said. "We have no interest in diminishing the everyday value of the contributions of the men and women who deliver the mail. They deserve to be rewarded."
Also, the transitional workforce needs a bridge to career positions, he said.
He mentioned that the union has proposed a Saturday-only workforce before. "We can work to make deliveries on Saturday cheaper without eliminating it outright," he said.
We must also maintain a ban on contracting out letter carrier work, he said.
"And we need to get supervisors off letter carriers' backs," he said. "Call off the dogs!"
All the NALC's national officers are working on special committees that with each area of the contract. (See committee assignments story in the October Postal Record.) "And we are we are prepared to go to arbitration if necessary," he said.
"On August 18, I opened negotiations stating that the Postal Service faces a crisis, and that letter carriers are not the cause of this crisis but the solution to it," he said. "Meanwhile, the USPS strategy to cut costs and radically downsize its workforce will only lead to its own destruction—and that's wrong."
"That's why we've taken dramatic steps to move forward, bringing in experts in restructuring to review, examine and pursue alternative negotiating strategies," he said, announcing that the NALC had retained the services of restructuring expert Ron Bloom and the financial advisory firm Lazard to help the NALC guide the Postal Service away from its strategies designed to dismantle itself.
Bloom recently departed the Obama administration, where he served as special assistant to the president on manufacturing policy and helped save the U.S. auto industry. He had previously worked both on Wall Street and for the United Steelworkers and SEIU and played a major role in the restructuring of the steel and airline industries. Lazard is a New York-based investment bank with a long history of working with large, unionized companies.
"The combination of Bloom and Lazard gives us instant credibility in our good faith effort to engage the Postal Service and to develop winning strategies to grow the business and increase revenue," he said, and called Bloom to the podium for a few remarks.
"Whether you like it or not," Bloom said, "the future of the USPS is in your hands. Who knows more about the USPS than you do?" He called on letter carriers to "embrace the challenge of revitalizing the enterprise." He vowed to do all he could to help the NALC save America’s Postal Service.
Q and A
The rap session concluded as Rolando touched on a number of issues that members still face and took questions and comments from dozens of delegates present about flats sorting, route inspections, excessing and withholding, plus contract delivery service and capturing new deliveries.
|Questions from attendees.
Also discussed were Delivery Unit Optimizations (DUOs), where the Postal Service moves individual letter carriers or entire zones to another installation. The NALC continues to work on memos to cover seniority issues, as well as other practical options for handling such moves.
Rolando noted the progress made on the National Reassessment Program's case backlog, noting how the success in dealing with this problem will help encourage bringing in a special corps of advocates to deal with other key issues.
"There's been no discussion of early-outs," Rolando said, "but that could all change tomorrow morning." He noted that early-outs with incentives require union involvement, but those without incentives merely need OPM's approval.
The president also thanked the members for their efforts on the first-ever "Fill the Satchel" campaign for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. "We learned a lot for the future and made a good start," he said, "What we do for MDA is another thing that defines us as letter carriers."
Rolando cautioned branches against allowing private companies to come to branch meetings or conventions to sell health and life insurance policies. "We don't need to give the impression that NALC endorses such things," he said, especially in light of the offerings of the Mutual Benefit Association and the Health Benefit Plan.
And he encouraged branches experiencing a backlog on local grievances to seek help from their national business agent's office.
"We face many battles, but the last thing we need to be doing is battling each other," Rolando said. "All of you are leaders, so make sure you treat each member's issue like it's your own and deal with it.
"We all have different views," he said. "We mirror society; we're not always going to get along. But we have to stay focused, because all we really have is each other.
"Our strength is in our members and our solidarity," he continued. "There is no way we can do what we do without the support we get from the members of this union.
"Just try to imagine what this battle would be like without a contract, rights, benefits, the union or each other," the president said.
"We are 280,000 strong," he said. "We have the history, the vision, the focus and the solidarity—and we damn well better have each others' backs!
"Together, we are going to succeed and preserve the Post Office in spite of itself, thanks to the integrity of the men and women of the NALC."