Postmaster General William F. Bolger has rejected a plea from AFL-CIO President George Meany for blanket amnesty for workers fired last summer for allegedly taking part in an illegal strike.
Bolger, a career employe who heads the largest federal operation, said it would be "unfair" in the majority of postal workers and taxpayers to "disregard the facts and pretend no strike ever took place." Bolger's rejection came in an April 26 letter to Meany obtained by this column.
Hundreds of workers walked off the job last July in a contract dispute, despite warnings from Bolger that they faced dismissal. Most of the action, which tied up some foreignbound mail and package service, took place in bulk mail centers, serving San Francisco and New York Ciyt.
Strikes against the government are illegal. Punishment could be a stiff fine, dismissal and a year and a day in jail. Many workers fired after the July flare-up have been reinstated. But the Postal Service has maintained a hard line against workers it claims were strike leaders.
Nine years ago, in March 1970, more than 20,000 workers took part in a wildcat walkout. It disrupted mail service in some part of the country for about a week. President Nixon ended it by calling in the Army, promising a 14 percent pay raise and granting blanket amnesty to all involved. The U.S. Postal Service brass skirted the strike penalties by refusing to call the action anything stronger than a "work stoppage."
Last July, however, Bolger warned his 600,000 employes that a strike would bring serious consequences. Postal inspectors and management brass took pictures of picketers, and alleged strike leaders. They also checked alibis of employes who later claimed they were sick, or who said they had been threatened by coworkers if they crossed the picket lines which were not sanctioned by unions.
Postal officials say only about 100 employes remain off the rolls. Appeals are pending in some cases. But Bolger has steadfastly refused to grant blanket amnesty.
The contract workers got-with the aid of an outside arbitrator-gives lifetime jobs to employes hired before last September. It also gives them a combination of three straight pay raises, and six cost-of-living increases that will probably raise postal pay over the three-year contract period more than 21 percent. It should bring the salary of the average journeyman clerk or carrier to more than $20,000.
Last month Meany, as the request of the Merican Postal Workers Union, wrote Bolger asking that all fired employes be rehired. ". . . By refusing to restore these men and women" Meany said, the service has "stigmatized them, shut off their chances for federal employment, and made it all but impossible for them to support themselves or their families."
Bolger's letter reply said the workers had violated their employment oath not to strike and his pre-strike warnings. "It was only after judicial intervention, in the form of both a temporary restraining order and later a preliminary injunction, in each of the two locations that strikes were curtailed and then ended."
Bolger said it would be "totally unfair" to workers who heeded his warning "and stayed on the job despite any differences" over the contract and "who did not engage in any illegal strike, as well as to the public" if he were to "disregard the facts and pretend no strike ever took place."