How many of us go to the gas pump and slide a debit or credit card into the pump, follow the instructions on the screen and wait for the “begin pumping” signal? How many of us go to the bank, stick our debit card into a machine, follow the instructions on the screen and pop out the cash we need. How many of us go to the grocery store, scan our own groceries, follow the instructions on the screen and pay with a credit card or cash, all without ever speaking to a live person. Let’s not forget those APCs in the lobbies in the Post Offices throughout this country! How many of our customers are beginning to gravitate to those machines?
The point is, automation has become the way of the world. Downsizing employees had become the norm in corporate America. We all buy into it outside of work, but we come down on the Union like gangbusters if there’s even the slightest hint that management is going to revert a vacant duty assignment or downsize a particular work area because another piece of automation is going to be implemented. What is the Union going to do about it? Why are we paying Union dues if you guys can’t stop this insanity?
The U. S. Postal Service is a business. Like any business, the Postal Service has number crunchers, economists and financial wizards who do nothing all day except figure out ways to make a profit for the Service. Profit means staying in business, automation means staying competitive. The business thriving means we all keep our jobs. It does not mean our jobs will not change over the course of our careers. It does not mean we will always be doing the same job year after year. It does not mean we can be adversarial every time another piece of equipment is implemented. What it does mean is that we can depend on a career with an income and benefits second to none while we continue to work through the changes.
Now here’s where the Union comes in. These are the very people we continually makes demands of to “do something” to stop the changes. The Union is the very organization that is responsible for the fact that we still have a job, with benefits, and can maintain our comfortable lifestyle. And so, the question from the Union is and will be “what do you want us to do?” You see, the Union cannot stop progress. The Union cannot make demands on the Postal Service to not automate. The Union cannot stop management from taking mail from the smaller offices and sending it to be worked at the larger offices. The Union does not have that power. The Union can only take a proactive roll and work with the Postal Service to insure the equipment is safe for the employees and ergonomically correct so that we do not suffer bodily harm. The Union can only become actively involved in the change and a watchdog to make sure the changes are made in accordance with the contract.
The Postal Service has to be competitive to stay in business and without the business we have no jobs. There no longer is a need to negotiate workers rights as it relates to this issue. We already have more rights than most workers in this country. There may be a need for enforcement of those rights
from time to time, but that is why we have a grievance procedure. The rest of it is change, and like it or not, we must accept it, working towards making the transition as smooth as possible for all of the employees we represent. We cannot stop change, but we can make sure it is within the confines of the contract. Other than that, change will always be a way of life in the Postal Service and the Union cannot change that fact.
Next time a change is taking place in your workplace, look at both sides of what is going on. Your union officials can insure management follows the contract to the letter of the law when they make changes, but the Union cannot stop the changes. When you feel the urge to ask the Union “what are you going to do about this”, you may want to consider whether or not you still have a job after the changes take place. You haven’t been laid off because your union has negotiated an unheard of “no layoff clause” in the contract. Your start time and days off may not be what you had prior to the change, but your paycheck will still keep coming and your benefits will still be there when you need them. May we all have enough work until retirement!
We live in a society where no one likes change. We are all used to doing the same things, day in and day out. Many people cannot function unless they have a stable routine. This is especially true of the workplace and for the purpose of this article, the Postal Worker. Many active Postal Workers came to work for the Post Office preautomation. We learned schemes, worked the mail manually or on the now distinct Letter Sorting Machines (LSM) and witnessed the Postal Service make one blundering mistake after another in their attempts to bring automation to the forefront. In the beginning, the automation simply didn’t work! We sat by scoffing at the idea that someday we would work in the world of automation with few manual jobs posted for bid. We laughed at management as they would periodically threaten us with notions that someday there would not be a need for so many workers because machines much faster and more accurate than any living clerk would take away our jobs. We cried baloney and other obscenities at those illusions of grandeur. No way was some piece of metal and electronic boards with bells and whistles going to work the mail better and/or faster than we could! We had a monopoly on distribution and nothing could replace the good old fashion clerk who could sort mail by scheme and zip code! Window clerks would never be replaced because they knew all the regulations, rates and rules about the mail service. We had a career for life and we knew it!
Then it slowly began to happen. First came the OCR machines, followed by BCS machines, then DBCS, then FSM 1000, FSM 100, PARS, SPLSM, APPS, APC, and on and on and on. With the introduction of each new piece of equipment came change and a reduction in the workforce. Where it started out with 100 employees each night sorting the mail for a medium sized city, it went to three LSM crews of 22 people to do the same work. Then we were downsized to 17 people on those same LSM crews and eventually the automated equipment was up and running and now the LSM machines became dinosaurs! The seventeen
man crews were replaced by two people on each piece of automated equipment. There are now times when only one person operates some of that equipment. Meanwhile, where we had to learn schemes, the automated equipment quickly came in and replaced many of us that had memorized what carrier delivered to which addresses.
The computer “brain” in that equipment now stores that information. With each new piece of equipment brought into the Post Office things got better for the computers and worse for the human being employees. With each change always comes the cry “What is the Union going to do about this?”