Archive for February 1st, 2013

The New Normal


My union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, recently, after over a year without a contract, was granted a decision by the arbitrator (we have not had a successfully negotiated contract in so long I can’t remember). The decision, amid the Postal Service’s financial woes, grants small wage increases offset by employees paying a higher percentage of health insurance costs. The Union is spinning it as a mild victory, considering the draconian proposals that management had made.

Maybe so, but there is one part of the agreement in which it is hard to find anything positive. That is the restructuring of the policy toward new hires.

The Postal Service has always had a two tiered system; one begins employment with the status of “Part Time Flexible”, a misnomer if ever there was one. In reality they should be known as “Overtime Flexibles”, for the “flexible” part really means that you cannot choose to not work overtime. But the pay has always been pretty good, a little more per hour than low seniority “Regular Carriers” ie, the ones with their own routes. The downside is that PTFs do not receive paid federal holidays, and that not having their own routes there is more stress, as they are assigned unfamiliar routes with regularity. But they immediately begin to accrue retirement benefits, health insurance, and other benefits.

But this new agreement changes all that. The PTF position is gone forever, replaced by a new job, “City Carrier Assistants”. The pay is considerably less than PTFs, $15 an hour, and they do not receive retirement benefits, though they will earn sick leave and annual leave, though not at the rate that PTFs did. They cannot get health insurance for the first year.

$15 an hour with paid sick leave may sound good if you are working minimum wage with no sick leave, but compared to the old entry position it is quite inferior. And bear in mind that the national average wage is $22.60 an hour. What is more, and a real injustice, those employees currently called “transitional employees”, who make around $21 an hour, though with fewer benefits than a career carrier, lose their jobs and must take an exam to qualify for a wage cut of around $6 an hour. To make them take an exam to qualify for a job many of them have been doing for years, at lower pay, is the epitome of the old expression “adding insult to injury”.

The Union is trying to present all this as a qualified victory; the new CCAs will be on the path to making regular carrier status, after all, while the TEs are contracted year to year (when this status was originally created in the early 90s in return for some contractual goodie I thought it unwise, a foot in the door for a lower paid workforce). But anyone who has worked for the Postal Service will have no illusions: these folks are destined for years of low pay. To see this as anything but another defeat for working people everywhere is illusory.

For we are in the midst of the creation of a “new normal”, one marked by lower wages and fewer benefits. 

According to a report by the National Employment Law Project:

1 During the recession, employment losses occurred throughout the economy, but were concentrated in mid-wage occupations. By contrast, during the recovery, employment gains have been concentrated in lower-wage occupations, which grew 2.7 times as fast as mid-wage and higher-wage occupations. Specifically:
 Lower-wage occupations were 21 percent of recession losses, but 58 percent of recovery growth.
 Mid-wage occupations were 60 percent of recession losses, but only 22 percent of recovery growth.
 Higher-wage occupations were 19 percent of recession job losses, and 20 percent of recovery growth.
2 The lower-wage occupations that grew the most during the recovery include retail salespersons, food preparation workers, laborers and freight workers, waiters and waitresses, personal and home care aides, and office clerks and customer representatives.
3 The unbalanced recession and recovery have meant that the long-term rise in inequality in the U.S. continues. The good jobs deficit is now deeper than it was at the start of the 21st century:
 Since the first quarter of 2001, employment has grown by 8.7 percent in lower-wage occupations and by 6.6 percent in higher-wage occupations.
 By contrast, employment in mid-wage occupations has fallen by 7.3.
4 Industry dynamics are playing an important role in shaping the unbalanced recovery. We find that three low-wage industries (food services, retail, and employment services) added 1.7 million jobs over the past two years, fully 43 percent of net employment growth. At the same time, better-paying industries (like construction; manufacturing; finance, insurance and real estate; and information) did not grow, or did not grow enough to make up for recession losses. Other better-paying industries (like professional and technical services) saw solid growth, but not in their mid-wage occupations. And steep cuts in state and local government have hit mid- and higher-wage occupations the hardest.
In short, America’s good jobs deficit continues. Policymakers have understandably been focused on the urgent goal of getting U.S. employment back to where it was before the recession (we are still missing nearly 10 million jobs), but our findings underscore that job quality is rapidly emerging as a second front in the struggling recovery.

The days when anyone with a high school diploma could walk into a job with a living wage, one sufficient to raise a family, are over.

The crime is that this situation exists concurrently with booming wealth for America’s ruling classes. Productivity from workers and profit for capitalists have risen, while  workers’ wages keep falling.

Such disparity cries to heaven for vengeance.

We are suffering from thirty years of class warfare: the rich against the rest of us.

And the rich have won.

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