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A United Vision
By Ronald Williams, Jr., 4/22/2007

Recently while stopping at a gas station I saw a letter carrier in route delivering the mail and identified myself as a postal worker. While he continued to fill the local mailbox I asked him what he thought about life as a postal employee and he said he loved the work but hated the dignity and respect issues he has to deal with and spouted out a few specific examples of unwanted behaviors all driven by an end result of numbers. I assured him I appreciated what he did and respected the fact that he probably has to put up with a lot more strife than people like me working inside a P&DC. He reciprocated and reminded me that I’m the one that has to put up with “them” all day at least he can get away for most of the day. I laughed and said I never thought of it like that. That letter carrier made my day! I bet you a Ben Franklin our postal news outlets will let me pony express these thoughts out to all my comrades. I just want to vent a little white smoke to symbolize a controlled fire and the only way I know to do this is to pick up my pen and give the system a fair fight. I am a union member and want to share my experiences hoping that my aim is not over anyone’s head. I mean no offense to anyone but working with some people bruises my brain and writing soothes that pain. If anyone wants to get upset about this opinion just sit down and rotate around these paragraphs. 

Rat-tat-tat pounds the gavel! Attention to the meeting! The local union meeting is now called to order. Just kidding! It really doesn’t work like that but the meeting does take place in a public restaurant where the patrons can see and hear what our unionized brothers and sisters of the Postal Service are talking about. Hopefully nobody gets upset at the meeting or the public might think we are going “you know what” yes, the six letter word that starts with P and ends with L. There are 500 members but 25 are present to get a free breakfast. The local president takes the Christopher Columbus approach to the meeting by not having an agenda possibly because he wants to sail off the edge. He discusses mail handler bids and tells us about new machinery. He is unable to answer questions, and often blurts out “this is not the time or place”. I wonder why there are no minutes from the last meeting, past meetings, or any thoughts for the next meeting. I think if we really want to be productive and accomplish something we should create an agenda with timelines for guidelines. Developing an agenda days or weeks ahead will give the membership an opportunity to collect their thoughts on the agenda items and present them in a timely and professional manner so the meeting doesn’t go in circles and moves full speed ahead.   

Back on the workroom floor I often notice that shop stewards are constantly engaged in casual conversation with their favorite supervisors laughing, giggling and cackling like Hyenas’ and creating a bonding so tight lubrication couldn’t loosen it. When it’s time to take on an issue they are afraid of hurt feelings in that relationship. On the other extreme they hide in the office all day or grab a clipboard and pounce around the floor periodically as quickly as they can to avoid the routes where they know supervisors are performing craft work. Or from fifty feet away they throw up crossed index fingers and rub them together like pieces of wood to indicate a “no-no” hoping the supervisor will stop. It works until the union representative is out of sight, and then its business as usual. Craft employees are numb to filing grievances because they know nothing is going to happen accept the fact they will receive some form of subtle retaliation from the supervisor like: no unscheduled annual, slight out of overtime, no recognition, etc. Stewards don’t know all the mail handlers by name or face but they do know everyone in management. Whenever presented with an issue you can see their hearts pumping Kool-Aid and their mouths forming to say in that familiar Barney Rubble voice “they can do that”. Of course they can do that! You are the Baker and they own the Bakery. Represent and make sure decisions are fair. That’s all we can ask to make this recipe a little tastier. It appears that communication is not one of the knowledge, skill, and ability (KSA) prerequisites for the position, just the popular vote. Working around some of these people for five minutes makes me understand why “let me slow the words down” c o n t i n u i n g   e d u c a t i o n is so important for all of us. Please, Pick up a book, listen to an audio book, play a podcast, attend a seminar, watch a video, go to class. Stop sitting on your butt relying on your seniority or lack of it. We have to inherit leadership. If the company doesn’t provide the training to make you a better representative then you take the initiative to do it for yourself so that public service is a public trust. Let’s tap into our own pool of craft employees (drill for oil) and utilize their talents and resources (discover the oil) like: computer skills, electronic talents, verbal & written skills, leadership abilities, technical and professional expertise to strengthen our union and ultimately improve postal operations (take the oil to the marketplace). Let’s show the employer who really runs barter town.    

I recently reviewed the shop steward guide online and it is a very well put together document they gives excellent guidance to union officials. It’s the Bible, right! Unfortunately, the stewards I’ve seen don’t know how to look up the information they need to effectively represent and advocate for the membership. None of us can afford to be illiterate by choice in this new millennium or else we will all have starring roles in the next caveman commercial. We don’t have a mission statement. We don’t have a strategic plan. Does that lead to a motto of divided we stand, united we fall?  I recently selected choice vacations for scheduled annual per specific instructions provided by my shop steward who collected the data and handled the task. We both agreed on the dates, initialed the document, and when it was time for me to go two months later the supervisor decided to create conflict and change the rules at the last moment and wanted me to take dates she deemed appropriate. Sorry, but I didn’t plan for the dates you want me to take! Needless to say Big Bird, Bert and Ernie from the union office sided with the supervisor to save their own face without the morale courage to insist they negotiated the dates with me and everyone should respect this veteran and let him enjoy his earned vacation time and correct any discrepancies next time. Maybe my pen is taking all of them out of their game.

This activity is just the tip of the iceberg. I made such a stink that those after me going on vacation were told to bring in tickets for proof they were going somewhere for scheduled annual. Are we crossing privacy lines? Someone disengage the cruise control. Is this what I’m paying dues for? I’m not mad at anyone because no matter what I will always be an ambassador of good Will (Williams). Nationally I understand we have approximately 50,000 members in this union alone and there’s strength in numbers if we stick together to do the right thing which I believe is happening on the beltway. That means we got it like that; but locally we do it like this! It would benefit the masses if there was a mechanism in place to monitor local unions and what they were doing and not hiding behind a desk after they’ve been elected. I believe what gets measured gets done. In-house it seems like they are awarded an opportunity to hide as long as they keep down the grievances. A former U.S. President once said, “you get what you inspect, not what you expect”. Someone at a higher authority should periodically visit and ask the hard questions about membership percentages, reasons for joining, not joining, reasons, for getting out, grievance handling activities, and a whole host of other thoughts to keep the locals and regions focused and on their toes. Anyway, maybe I am little ahead of my time but I have a vision that together we can align the cars on this train, get all the passengers facing in the same direction, travel in sync and watch and feel the train turn the corner with precision.

Keep the faith and peace to you!
Ronald Williams, Jr.
Mail Handler, United States Postal Service

 

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