September 14, 2006 - William Burrus
"In our continuing efforts to adjust our expenses to revenues with a declining membership, as previously discussed a review has been made of the field office staff and the proper ratio of employees and officers. The review indicates that no standards have been established and over time staff has been determined on an ad hoc basis.
Pursuant to this review a ratio of staff vs officers will be established and adjustments made accordingly. This will result in the elimination of some secretarial assignments and the conversion of others from full time to part time.
You will be provided a summary of adjustments intended prior to their effective date and your input is welcome."
October 2, 2006 - Terry Stapleton
"President Burrus has asked me to head up the review of field operations, in particular as it relates to secretarial staffing, office location, office purchases and the possibility of National Business Agents (NBAs) working from home.
First, let me assure all of you that no decisions will be made concerning any of the above issues without the input of the affected officer/officers."
* * * *
"Your input is welcome and will be necessary to ensure that any changes go smoothly without affecting our first and foremost obligation to our membership, that of representation."
October 19, 2006 - William Burrus
"I am in receipt of your letter dated October 10 and I am returning it to you. I am informed that its contents have been shared with others and the subject matter includes your views on my announcement that secretary staffing was under review soliciting your input. I do not discuss official union business in a public forum so by sharing your views with others your letter will not be considered as input into my final decision."
Between the first memo and the second (letter), I wrote "publicly" within the small circle of NBA's and Regional Coordinators (the target audience for the first and second documents) and published an article protesting the planned reduction of secretarial positions, also expressing my concerns about any restructuring of field offices. Between the second and the third letters, I wrote privately to President Burrus expressing my concern that these issues be openly discussed in a full Executive Council meeting.
What is presently underway in the private (if not secret) dealings at APWU headquarters is the planning for what may be extensive changes to the way our field offices have been structured for the past twenty years. The field offices of the APWU are the NBA and Regional Coordinator offices, about twenty in all. These offices, principally those housing your NBA's and their secretarial staff, provide the most direct connection between the national organization and State and Local officers, stewards, the members and their families. These offices provide the day-to-day representational link between what happens on the workroom floor and the national APWU.
What passes with some at headquarters level as a concept of democratic unionism is markedly different from my concept. They apparently believe that democracy is fine, but should never infringe upon the inherent rights of the APWU administration. When the administration undertakes a program that threatens to undermine the structure that directly provides essential representational services to the States, Locals and members, the fundamental principles of democratic unionism demand that the program be subject to open discourse. Clearly, the boys in Washington disagree.
It seems clear enough that the present administration of this Union continues to separate itself from the field officers, the State organizations, Locals and from the membership itself. In doing so, it diminishes the democracy of the Union. President Burrus and Secretary-Treasurer Stapleton are presently on a course to reduce bargaining unit positions in the field offices - the secretaries who provide daily support and assistance to your NBA's and Coordinators. They are also in the process of making decisions as to which field offices will be closed or consolidated with other field offices. These offices house the officers and staff who provide the most direct services to State and Local officers, to workroom floor stewards and to members and their families. Any initiative by the Union to adversely effect these officers, staff and offices ought to be open to full discourse in the "public forum" of every member, steward and officer of this Union. Secretive processes and decision-making conducted in the smoked filled back rooms of APWU headquarters are anathema to what unionism is about.
President Burrus and Secretary-Treasurer Stapleton threaten the field office secretaries' job security. They threaten the continuation of the field offices that are directly responsible for the day-to-day processing of grievances that seek to protect the interests of the members. And, with the right hand, they invite input from the field officers, while with the left hand, dismiss proffered input as irrelevant or inappropriately formed. The arrogance and authoritarianism driving these actions is hypocritical at best. It creates contentiousness and fractious arguments that only serve to detract from our fundamental purposes. And, in doing so, it disheartens true unionists and betrays those who have worked so hard to serve the cause of labor.
When I first took office as Maintenance Craft NBA and began to get further acquainted with fellow unionists throughout the thirteen states of the Central Region, I was truly impressed with the devotion and respect paid to NBA's. It was not mine from the outset, not something automatic; I had to earn it. But what I saw routinely in virtually every local, state or regional setting was the close tie that existed between the State and Local officers and stewards and their NBA's. I cannot believe that the present course being pursued at our headquarters level is not of utmost significance to these same State and Local unionists. The problem is plain; but if you do not know about it, you cannot form an opinion or take action. Brothers and Sisters, it is past time that you become informed. It is only months before another national election cycle begins. At that time the field offices must be identified for prospective candidates. Whatever is going on in Washington, in all likelihood, it will be "a done deal" very shortly.
(First published in November 2006)