The controversial proposed labor contract between the U.S. Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union includes an unusual bonus for the world’s largest postal union: a USPS-funded incentive of up to $7,000 annually for thousands of “non-career” employees to join APWU.
The incentive would come in the form of a health-insurance benefit for “postal support employees” – the new name for casual and temporary workers. After one year on the job, they could sign up for employer-sponsored health insurance, with USPS paying 75% of the premium if they choose the "APWU Consumer Driven Health Plan". (See pages 173-174 of the contract for details.)
Only APWU members can sign up for the APWU health plan.
For an employee buying family coverage, the Postal Service share of the premium would cost $6,817 at current insurance rates, according to a union presentation. For employee-only coverage, USPS would pay $3,030.
Federal agencies are not allowed to encourage or discourage their employees from joining unions. Postal executives presumably believe that the indirect nature of the proposed incentive would not violate union-neutrality rules.
The proposed 4 ½-year contract, which faces a ratification vote next week, would allow significant increases in the number of PSEs so that they eventually might constitute nearly 20% of bargaining-unit employees. That means the healthcare provision could end up applying to about 30,000 workers.
The healthcare provision would give the APWU a way to gain new members from a group of employees who rarely join, helping to counter its membership losses from the Postal Service's elimination of career positions via retirements. It was part of the price postal executives are willing to pay for some valuable concessions it would gain from APWU, such as lower pay for new employees (See Is the APWU Eating Its Young?) and a greater ability to match staffing to fluctuating mail volumes.
The proposed contract has been attacked from both sides. Former APWU President William Burrus and others have criticized current APWU leadership for caving in to postal management and big mailers and for selling out future employees. Meanwhile, Republican Congressmen have labeled the deal as a giveaway to the APWU and have scheduled a hearing on the proposal.
What is becoming increasingly clear is that the proposed contract resulted from some extreme “horse trading”. The question is which side got the better horses.