While it is certainly appropriate for the Union to take fiscal responsibility seriously and to attempt to reduce costs in a variety of ways, it is also essential that we not abandon principle in doing so. Recently, your national officers were informed that our cellular telephone service - mostly contracted with AT&T - would soon change to Verizon wireless service. As John Clark, Clerk Craft NBA, pointed out to our Secretary-Treasurer, however, Verizon was listed on the AFL-CIO "Do not patronize" list. The Communication Workers of America (CWA) was also recommending avoiding Verizon because the company's wireless division is non-union. A single click from the www.unionlabel.org home page on the internet yields a complete list of union and non-union telephone and internet services. And clearly enough Verizon wireless is marked with an emphatic 'No!'
So why did APWU contract with Verizon for your officers' wireless telephone service? Reportedly, this was handled by an appointee who alleged he had asked someone at CWA who allegedly said Verizon was 'okay'. Unfortunately, when pressed, this SAP could not identify whom he had spoken with in CWA. And, in the end, our 'boys in Washington' decided it would not be good form to change service from AT&T - a union company becoming Cingular, a union company - in favor of a non-union company.
But the change of heart begs the question, how was the original decision made? Was this a blind effort to save a few bucks? Were we as guilty as if we had walked into a WalMart store looking for the latest bargain, as so many Americans do day after day? Apart from the fact that officers of this organization take an oath of office that swears us to buy union made products and services whenever possible, the simple fact is unionists must follow principles - not bottom lines.
And in the same context, I am reminded, the APWU bargaining unit employees represented by OPEIU continue to work without a contract. The 'boys in Washington' have been unrelenting in refusing to extend the contract for these union workers, requiring them instead to work at the discretion of APWU bosses. It is also reported that requests for information needed by OPEIU to move forward in negotiations have been ignored by the APWU chief negotiator. And it seems the primary sticking point for APWU here is an effort to reduce the health benefits protection for OPEIU workers - presumably to save dollars. So, are we guilty here too of placing dollars before principles?
I received in the mail recently a package proudly announcing the union is providing me an opportunity to set up a 401(k) retirement account by investing through Oppenheimer Funds mutual fund programs. I looked through the documents and found that at least one of the Oppenheimer accounts invests in WalMart. I suppose its no great surprise to find almost any mutual fund company placing some assets in WalMart, the world's largest retailer. But, frankly, I find it offensive to think that my dollars would be invested in such an abusive company. WalMart is continually being targeted by various elements of the progressive community (not just labor) for its business practices and for the damage it does to American workers and communities.
Why Oppenheimer Funds? I checked the internet website of Social Investment Forum and could not find Oppenheimer among the numerous investment companies listed in their report of "Socially Responsible Mutual Funds." While one might argue that any investment in the business community brings one to "the near occasion of sin," anyone with progressive principles ought to recognize that it is necessary to minimize the extent to which we contribute to interests that are in direct opposition to our values. That is why there is a Social Investment Forum. That is why a multitude of investment firms offer the socially conscious investor opportunities to place criteria on where our money goes apart from mere considerations of dollar. It is essentially the same principle we espouse when we urge our members to support other union workers in their struggles with uncooperative management and when we urge our members to buy union made products and services.
And, while 'the boys in Washington' continue to push their own agenda of cutting costs for the Union, President Burrus's recent announcement poses an interesting contrast. It seems Brother Burrus intends to give all expenses paid vacation trips to beautiful Washington, DC, to forty rank-and-file members. His announcement in the last tabloid asserts these members will witness and "engage" in the collective bargaining process for our National Agreement. And these members must not be officers or stewards in any capacity; in other words, they are likely to be members who have little knowledge or real interest in the proceedings in which they will "engage". While there are many local, long-term officers and stewards who might actually gain some insight from the experience and share that insight with their members back home, instead, these vacation trips will be afforded to others. For that matter, very few of your NBA's have ever witnessed even one day of national negotiations. But rather than bring to Washington members whose salary is already being paid by APWU, we will pay expenses and lost time salary to forty rank-and-file members - who, by the way, will be in addition to the members of the rank-and-file committee.
(First published April 2005)