Postal Worker Union Mutiny Imperils USPS Chief's Agenda

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe
Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg
U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe faces numerous obstacles as he attempts to restructure his ailing agency. His customers are upset because he wants to raise prices. Members of Congress are unhappy with his efforts to shutter unprofitable post offices and terminate letter deliver on Saturdays.

Now Donahoe has another problem: a new cadre of employee union leaders who are more stridently opposed to his efforts than their predecessors. Yesterday, the American Postal Workers Union, which represents 220,000 USPS employees, said insurgent candidate Mark Dimondstein had defeated incumbent President Cliff Guffey in a race that the union itself descrbed as “hotly contested.”

Dimondstein received 26,965 votes, Guffey 21,007. Six other members of Dimondstein’s Members First Team were elected along with their leader. Dimondstein and his running mates have called for Donahoe’s ouster, accusing him of trying to “destroy” the USPS. They have promised to launch “a national coordinated plan” to fight plant consolidation and post office closures.

“We’re at a crossroads,” Dimondstein told LaborNotes in September. “At the core of this whole struggle is whether the post office is going to be decisively privatized and turned over to profit-making entities and low-paid, non-union jobs—or remain a public entity that serves all the people and maintains good-paying union jobs.”

Guffey was no fan of Donahoe’s cost-cutting measures, either. But he alienated some members in 2011 by agreeing to a new contract that, his detractors lamented, enabled the the USPS to hire new workers at lower pay rates.

It’s not clear how Dimonstein thinks the USPS, which lost $15.9 billion in 2012, will survive if it doesn’t reduce its costs. Postal worker unions have often said that the USPS’s woes are largely the fault of a 2006 law requiring the agency to prepay its retiree health benefits.

But the rise of e-mail is hurting the postal service too. The APWU’s newly elected president knows something about its attraction. In August, he and some of his allies sued the APWU to get it to turn over the e-mail addresses of all its members so they could send them campaign material electronically. They complained in their legal filings that it was “expensive” to send letters on paper. The judge granted their request for a primarily injunction.

Dimonstein talks about building a coalition between his union’s members and postal customers to stop Donahoe. But as long as people choose e-mail over letters, it may not be easy for him to persuade the postmaster general to change his ways.

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