In his 2010 book, There’s Always Work at the Post Office, former postal worker Philip Rubio documented how the USPS came to be a major provider of employment for black men and women, many of them veterans, and how black postal workers became a critical force for social change.
Employment with the U.S. Postal Service has historically been a source of upward mobility for thousands of African American men and women since the 1860s, but it is a source that is expected to dry up in this century.
Over the past 10 years the U.S. Postal Service has reduced its workforce by 212,000 positions, anticipates another 100,000 positions lost to attrition, and plans to further eliminate 120,000 career positions by 2015. Some of the 120,000 eliminated positions could come through buyouts and other programs, but a significant number are expected to result from layoffs — if Congress allows the USPS to circumvent union contracts that explicitly prohibit laying off postal workers.
In what is becoming an American trend to undermine collective bargaining agreements across multiple industries, Postal Service employees and retirees face possible contractual changes that are being described by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as “cost saving” measures intended to “protect taxpayers.”
The USPS is asking Congress to intervene on its behalf. In a recently released optimization document, the USPS states, “Unfortunately, the collective bargaining agreements between the Postal Service and our unionized employees contain layoff restrictions that make it impossible to reduce the size of our workforce by the amount required by 2015, therefore, a legislative change is needed to eliminate the layoff protections in our collective bargaining agreements.”
Postal union leaders are “absolutely opposed” to the layoffs. “The APWU will vehemently oppose any attempt to destroy the collective bargaining rights of postal employees or tamper with our recently negotiated contract — whether by postal management or members of Congress,” said Cliff Guffey, president of the American Postal Workers Union.
“The issues of layoff protection and health benefits are specifically covered by our contract. … The Congress of the United States does not engage in contract negotiations with unions, and we do not believe they are about to do so,” said Fredric V. Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
How Congress will respond to the proposals remains to be seen.
Read more at the Washington Post.