Early last week, in the second of two National Executive Council meetings set up to discuss restructuring of the APWU, the Council adopted a motion to . . . do nothing . . . again! This Union has been on a financial downward spiral for a good many years; the members have attempted on more than one occasion to address its financial problems by working toward a restructuring of national officer positions; and time and again the administration of the Union has thwarted that legitimate effort.
Allow me to revisit two articles I wrote on this issue – one related to the aftermath of the 2008 National Convention, the other in the run-up to the 2010 National Convention.
Early in 2009, I wrote about what had transpired in the 2008 Convention and what it should mean to us –
“We heard for several years prior to this Convention, from the administration, that the Union’s financial status was a serious concern. . . Simply put, a Union of 220,000 members cannot afford to operate as if it had the revenue base of 300,000 members. Unfortunately, the message from our administration about our finances was again and again presented as if from a split personality. We repeatedly were being given two, conflicting presentations. . . The frustration with this mixed message in the 2006 Convention resulted in Resolution 523. The resolution called for a study by a national committee to determine what our real situation was, how we ought to change in order to (at least) be prepared for what seemed to be an inevitable continuing decline in membership and, thereby, revenue, and to make a report to the 2008 Convention. Well the Committee was formed, met and issued a report.
“I and others castigated the Resolution 523 report as a meaningless failure of the committee to satisfy its mandate. And, it seemed, the 2008 Convention agreed. Where we hoped to see specific recommendations about how the Union would change – perhaps restructure itself – to be ready for impending financial decline, we got nothing. The committee report, apparently dictated by the administration, was a deferral to the President and the Executive Board. It recommended only that the Union allow the President and the Executive Board to make structural changes to the organization purely at their discretion. . . No specific model for restructuring of this organization was developed. No specific plan of action was put forth that would guide our budgetary determinations in light of dwindling income. A well deserved dues increase proposal found no support in the administration, in spite of declining revenue and in spite of failure to reduce anything about our structure – again the self-contradictory message. The approach of this administration to our financial health has been very similar to the Republican Congress approach to America’s financial health – cut, cut, cut expenses, but do nothing to increase revenue.
“To the credit of the delegates to the Convention, they once again took charge of the Convention. And their success, once again, was a success in stymying the administration’s plans – the President would not be allowed sole discretion whether or not to fill a vacant officer position; and any decision to close or move a field office would require Convention action.
“We were still left, because of the abject failure of Resolution 523 to realize its potential, with no plan that would lead us through the rocky economic events that have since the Convention befallen us. We are now, in large part because of the collapse of the American economy (more particularly the Wall Street Casino), faced with real economic difficulties. . .”
I followed that up, as we approached the 2010 National Convention, with a call for the members to prepare to take the reins of the Convention and determine a specific restructuring plan for the APWU –
“Despite contentions to the contrary – uttered by some as if in a state of denial – the Union’s financial condition is not good. We were hit pretty hard by the economic disaster of late last year, because like any large organization we had money for certain purposes placed in investments. The losses suffered there compounded the shrinking revenue caused by a shrinking member base caused by a shrinking Postal Service work force. There is no doubt significant cost cutting measures have been taken, but cutting cost for its own sake is the way of corporate capitalism. . .
“As I have previously written, the effort by the 2006 Convention delegates to move forward and set the stage for positive change in the 2008 Convention was thwarted by the subversion of the intent of Resolution 523. What we got, instead of a framework for real change, was an acquiescence to the status quo. So we now face the prospect for attempting to make real change in the 2010 Convention . . .
“President Burrus repeatedly warned the assembled participants in the  Craft Conferences, “Do no harm. Do no harm.” Which was taken correctly, I believe, by most to be an admonishment against structural changes to the organization. . .
“What harms this organization is a failure in the administration to remember what the Union is all about. What harms this Union is the recent development of its corporate mentality. What harms this Union is an administration that prostrates itself to capitalism as disgracefully as do the corporate capitalist CEO’s who have pillaged the economy of this country. The efforts of the members of this Union to find a way to make the Union more economically efficient by paring down our structure, with an eye toward preserving and strengthening our core responsibilities as a Union, cannot be said to do harm. It cannot be so construed unless one views threatening the continued political careers of incumbents in unnecessary officer positions as the harm against which we are warned.”
Well, again in the 2010 National Convention, the best interests of the Union were thwarted by obstruction and timidity. We did not adopt a comprehensive restructuring plan; however, we did mandate that the National Executive Council meet for the express purpose of doing so. The NEC was to meet for study, discussion, debate and – if possible – consensus on a comprehensive plan to restructure the APWU in order to meet our desperate economic needs. Almost two years subsequent, the NEC has – just as the Resolution 523 Committee did six years ago – abdicated its responsibility. It has, once again, acquiesced to those who continue to claim we need not do anything. There were a few among the Council who made the attempt to do what the Convention had called for, but they were in a small minority.
Once again, it will fall to the full body of the APWU National Convention, assembled in Los Angeles, to make the structural changes we need. And, again, let me offer my own suggestion of major elements of restructuring as I put forward as we approached the 2010 National Convention –
“Here is the framework for structural change I suggest: Look first to dismantling the remnants of merger accommodations, consider the real utility of every existing officer position, analyze the necessity of appointed and other “managerial” positions and seek ways to strengthen our core function of representation. More specifically, as a starting point for discussion and debate, consider these possible changes:
Merge the functions of the position of Secretary-Treasurer into the Vice-President position, eliminating the Secretary-Treasurer position.
Merge the functions of the department director positions in Organization, Human Relations and Research and Education into one headquarters position.
Eliminate one Assistant Director from each of the Craft officer structures.
Eliminate the five positions of Regional Coordinator.
Give a Constitutional status to the National Executive Council that includes provision for the National Executive Council to elect – after each national election of officers – from its own ranks eight members to the National Executive Board (in addition to the President and each of the Division (Craft) Directors) to include one National Business Agent from each of the five regions.
Merge or reorganize certain of the fifteen regions and eliminate unneeded NBA positions.
Eliminate the APWU employee timekeeping system [the OPEIU bargaining unit employees have only recently been taken out of the old timekeeping system] and whatever managerial positions control it, and dismantle most of the APWU human resources management structure.
These are real, possible changes that need exploration, discussion and debate. It’s time that we got down to the business of improving the Union’s structure in order to ensure the continued Union function we have all come to expect.”
We are now at a membership level of, not 220,000 but, about 160,000, with the Postal Service hemorrhaging employees even as we fiddle. This is not the time for the APWU administration to circle the wagons, hunker down and protect the status quo; it is time for bold action to serve the Union.