At some point soon, someone might need to remind Mark Dimondstein that he asked for this.
Taking over as president of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) during a time when the U.S. Postal Service is a financial wreck doesn’t sound like fun. He’ll be installed as president of the nation’s largest postal union, with almost 200,000 members, on Nov. 12 after winning an upset election last month.
But the 30-year veteran of the Postal Service from Greensboro, N.C., didn’t unseat incumbent Cliff Guffey to have a good time. Dimondstein did it to protect union members from what he sees as the creeping privatization of postal services and to give the workers a union leadership that more aggressively defends their interests as management tries to dig out of an ever-sinking financial hole.
Over the past two years, USPS has lost $20 billion and has missed $16.7 billion in payments to the Treasury for future retiree health benefits.
USPS “is in the midst of a financial disaster,” says an agency news release. “The Postal Service as it exists today is financially unsustainable,” Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe told a Senate committee in September.
With this bleak backdrop, Dimondstein’s victory, with about 55 percent of the vote, indicates the emergence of a more militant union. “The APWU membership has spoken decisively,” he said, “for a new direction in our union as we face the challenges of protecting our jobs, our retirement and our public postal service from the postal privatizers on Wall Street, in Congress and even in postal headquarters.”
In a Monday interview with the Federal Diary, Dimondstein discussed where he wants to take the union and the financial troubles of the agency where his members work. This is an edited transcript of that conversation.
What is this new direction where you want to take APWU?
The new direction is where the American Postal Workers Union focuses its fight to save the United States post office. It should be there for generations to come. It should be vibrant. We thought the current administration was solely focused on lobbying Congress. We believe Congress moves best when the people move to make demands on Congress. Also the new direction has to do with the relationship with postal management. We think postal management is intent on privatizing the Postal Service, which would be the worst thing that could happen to the Postal Service.
Let me ask about this privatization notion. That is not something postal management has proposed to Congress.
Management hasn’t proposed it directly to Congress, but everything they are doing is lining the Postal Service up for privatization. Management has proposed five-day delivery. If you only deliver five days, then that might be four days, then somebody else on the private side starts delivering one day, two days and three days and so on. If the mail can’t be processed and delivered in a timely manner, then someone else is going to do that, people are going to start looking elsewhere. If post offices are closed or their hours are cut back, then people are going to be forced to go to a private pharmacy or an Office Depot type of store or a Wal-Mart to buy their postal products. All of that is heading toward privatization.
How will the union’s relationship with management change under your direction?
We’ll have to see. We’re going to have lines in the sand that we’re not willing to cross. We would expect from management that they stop these [postal] plant closings. [Donahoe has reported to Congress about “the accelerated consolidation” of postal processing facilities and the “reduction in hours at 13,000 Post Offices, in conjunction with the expansion of alternate retail access.”]
We’re not afraid to march, we’re not afraid to sit in if we got to and we think we need to work with all the other postal unions. While we’re not calling today for the resignation of the PMG [postmaster general], if the postmaster general doesn’t respond to the message our union sent, then we’ll also have to deal with that question.
Are there any issues that you would advance that have not been advanced by APWU so far?
I think we need much more solidarity amongst the postal unions in terms of our common fight in a time of crisis. I think we have to work with the labor movement, the AFL-CIO in a much stronger way. I think we have to work with the people of this country and their organizations in a much stronger way.
I call it the grand alliance. When we take office on Nov. 12, we’re going to immediately set out to build a grand alliance with the people of this country, organizations that represent seniors, civil rights organizations, veterans organizations, business organizations, organizations that represent folks in small towns to build an alliance in this country to defend our national treasure. People in this country still really support the post office. It’s part of our community. It’s part of our neighborhoods. We think given the opportunity that people will step up and defend their right to a public postal service.
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.