Although it is difficult to discern any remnant in today's capitalist economy, there is a fundamental principle in any economic structure that one of the purposes of business is to provide employment. In other words, businesses do not exist merely for their own sake or the sake of the owner. Whether it is a manufacturing business or a service, any business renders the fundamentally necessary societal component of employment. And, in spite of what one may gather from today's profit centered approach of most American business, employment really is not a bad thing. We see all the time in reports from the center of American capitalism - Wall Street - that businesses' fortunes rise and fall on employment. If Wall Street thinks a business employs "too many" people, its stocks are not valued as high as they might otherwise be. If Wall Street thinks a business is "too good" to its employees, its stock prices do not grow. If a company slashes jobs or dumps its retirement system, its profitability and stock fortunes rise. This was very plainly stated not long ago in a piece about Costco - that "big box" competitor to WalMart - where the Wall Street players complained that Costco's stock prices and profits were being held back by the company's unfortunate attitude that workers should be valued, well paid and provided a good benefit package.
Was it not always the American dream - no, not to miraculously become a millionaire - to have a good standard of living, be able to own a home, send kids to college and not fall destitute in old age? How could such a dream survive in today's profit driven economy? The answer is, of course, that ultimately that dream will be extinguished. The America we all know and love is already a third-world nation in health care, and its workers are as badly exploited - though not yet as desperately poor - as workers in many developing countries.
We in federal employment have enjoyed for many, many years the benefit of a theory placed into civil service employment law and practice that the federal government was expected to be a model employer. Despite some of the day-to-day working condition problems we face, the simple fact is that federal employment does mirror that theory. Generally, the pay is good, there is job security, health benefits, merit promotions, seniority and retirement benefits. And federal employment has, in some very explicit ways, fulfilled that economic necessity of simply providing people with job opportunities. And, these days in Postal Service employment, one of our chief complaints stems from the Postal Service's reinventing itself in the mold of profit driven American business, resulting in its now pernicious drive to reduce the size of the workforce and deprive the remaining workers of the benefits to which we have become accustomed.
But does it not stand to reason that a true model employer ought to be a labor union? After all, who would know better and value higher the rightful aspirations of workers than an organization putatively dedicated to serving the best interests of workers? And who can ignore the stirring speeches of the top officers of the APWU exhorting the faithful to strive in the cause of protecting and advancing the rights of workers? That is what we are all about . . . Isn't it?
Well, not entirely. You see, the APWU has recently decided to join the American business community in the race to the bottom. In other, less stirring speeches of the top officers of the Union we have been hearing regularly that the Union must be run like a business. We have officers who have dubbed themselves "managers"; we now have a Human Resources department in the APWU, charged with managing the workers employed by the Union; we have a computerized timekeeping system, tracking every minute of clock time; video camera monitoring of workers' comings and goings at our headquarters office is relied upon in discipline proceedings; and the boys in Washington have even talked of subcontracting some of the work our secretaries presently perform.
Additionally, we are reminded by the top officers of the onerous burden imposed on the Union by the retirement and health care plans provided to our workers. The bottom line dictates that the Union must bring its expenses under control . . . And - if we are modeling the Union on American business - what better place to reduce expense than on the backs of the workers. Not long ago we saw a contentious round of contract negotiations between OPEIU, representing the workers, and APWU. Last year the talk at headquarters turned toward reducing field staffing (i.e., downsizing the workforce) and setting up one or just a few central grievance processing offices to scan all grievances appealed to Step 3, destroying your hard copy grievance files, with the idea that your NBA's could work then from electronic documents. Who needs secretaries anyway!?
Now this - so similar to Postal Service managerial practices, its frightening - and I quote:
". . . 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."
A study will be made; staffing standards will be established; jobs will be eliminated; full-time positions will be reduced to part time; and input is welcome.
How many times have we all been faced with decisions predetermined by the Postal Service, followed by studies designed to support the preordained outcome? How often have we been informed by Postal Service management of an intended course, fully fleshed out, followed by the perfunctory invitation for input? But then who can argue with the race to the bottom (line)?
Oh, did I mention - this announcement comes just days after the OPEIU won a ruling by the NLRB that the APWU had violated the workers' rights by threatening disciplinary action for the workers' exercise of protected activity.
(First published September 2006)