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Keeping our hard-earned benefits

by Lili Beaumont, Branch #214

Prior to 1970, the postal service was considered a branch or department of the United States government. In fact, it was called the post office, with a cabinet-level postmaster-general at the top. Being that, any decisions regarding wages and benefits of letter carriers and all other postal employees were governed by Congress. So the unions(but for the sake of this article I will speak only of the NALC) would have to lobby Congress for better wages and benefits. Wages and benefits would improve minimally and only depending on the state of the nation's budget. So you can assume that letter carrier wages and benefits such as annual and sick leave would not improve significantly.

Pregnant? Good-bye

Under these conditions there was once upon a time when a full-time regular female letter carrier became pregnant and wanted to take time off to have her baby, the postal service could tell her "see you later and don't bother to come back because we will find someone to replace you permanantly while you're gone" and she would have no recourse to that. There was also a time when any regular full-time carrier wanting to take a vacation was responsible for finding a replacement carrier to do their route while they were on vacation, otherwise they could not go. These situations are examples of collective bargaining rights and back then letter carriers had no collective bargaining rights.

1970 strike for wages

It was not until 1970, despite a law prohibiting postal employees from striking, when letter carriers from coast to coast put their jobs on the line to stand together and strike against the post office department. In a nutshell, the strike resulted in the birth of the Postal Reorganization Act which gives the NALC collective bargaining rights. Having collective bargaining rights means that the NALC has the right to negotiate its own contract which includes but is not limited to wages and benefits (i.e. overtime pay, holiday pay, annual leave rights, sick leave rights, etc.).

Since I have been employed by the postal service, our union has been able to nationally negotiate regular periodic Cost-of-Living Allowances (COLA), annual leave benefits and rights, sick leave benefits and rightslike sick leave for dependant care and Family Medical Leave Act, periodic percentage wage increases throughout the life of past contract periods, better appeal rights ofr discipline, and a permanent wage increase from level 5 to level 6 - the only postal union to achieve this through arbitration. We have also evolved into an effective lobbying entity that has earned the respect of Congress and those involved in the political and legislative areans.

Of course, this right to negotiate our own contract and lobby Congress to protect our jobs is not free of charge. It costs money to have quality attorneys who can assist our union officers in any legal matters related to contract negotiations and other interactions with the postal service. It costs money to retain, train and prepare a national staff or any union representatives to combat any postal stategies and policies geared to take away our contractual rights.

Quality of our lobbying at stake

The quality and extent of NALC's representation is directly related to how much our union can afford to pay, and how much we can afford to pay depends on our only source of revenue which is union dues money whether it be on a local level, statewide level or national level.

It's great that our union has been able to negotiate so many rights and benefits over the years especially since we had hardly any righs or benefits in the past. However, it happened because most carriers were in the union. And the only bad thing about it all is that non-union members, who do not pay union dues, also get these hard fought rights and benefits. In essence, non-union members get the same COLAs, wage increases, leave benefits, etc. but they haven't paid their fair share.
It's like Executive Vice-President Ray Fong's pizza analogy which goes like this: Five friends go out to a restaurant for pizza and beer. They all agree to but a pizza and a pitcher of beer. They all have a good time eating the pizza and drinking the beer. When the bill arrives, one of the five friends leaves the restaurant and everyone else is left to pay for their share and his share of the bill. In essence, that friend reaped the benefits of the meal without paying for its cost. Is that fair to everyone else? My answer would be "No".

Be union or be treated like a casual

In my opinion, there is no excuse for anyone to not belong to the union. Excuses like "I cannot afford to pay the dues. I need that money to pay for bridge tolls and gas", "I am unhappy with my shop steward or local leaders", "fifteen years ago something happened and I was not satisfied with what the union did", and "I don't need the union" are all unacceptable.
They would only be acceptable if those non-members can answer "yes" to the following questions: "Can you afford not to have periodic wage and COLA increases?" , "Would you prefer not to have leave and health benefits?", "Would you prefer not to have sick leave rights to care for sick dependent family members?" , "Would you like to be fired and not have any appeal rights?", You see, there is a bigger picture than a personal dissatisfaction with someone or something from the union. There is a bigger picture beyond bridge tolls and the price of gasoline. Everyone needs the union because if it wasn't for the union, we would all be temporary employees probably earning minimum wage without benefits or rights (like casual employees).

Every union member should persistently and continuously encourage any and all "scab" or non-union members to join our union. Within the body of this article, I have given you some tools and talking points to use. It's easy to do. Just have the non-union members fill out the "join the union form" (Form 1187). You can get one from your shop steward or union officers. Write your name at the top right-hand corner of the form and recieve a monetary reward as soon as the union recieves the completed form. If at first you don't succeed at it, try and try until you get these non-union members signed up.

The union needs everyone to be a member in order to be financially sound and able to maintain its reputation as a force to be dealt with in managment's eyes as well as in Congress. Those people not in the union are stealing from the rest of us who are in the union.


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