ELECTION 2004 ANALYSIS

By Fred Heller, Legislative Director
November 2004 newsletter

On Tuesday, November 2, I arrived at my polling place a few minutes after 7:00 AM. Normally, I vote in the early evening hours following dinner, but on this night I had to fly to Boston to attend an APWU seminar on workers' compensation. Anticipating heavy voter turnout, I decided to vote before work rather than risk missing my flight because of long lines of after-work voters. I was both shocked and energized by the fact that a long line had already assembled at 7 o'clock. As the 127th voter, I was lucky to get to work on time. At this rate, my polling place might have a record turnout before lunch! Every election should generate this level of interest.

Arriving at my Boston hotel at about 10:45 PM, my only plans for the rest of the evening were to watch the election results. Before traveling, I didn't realize that the hotel was only a few blocks from Copley Square, where John Kerry was scheduled to attend a victory rally. So, like thousands of others in the city that night, I figured I would make a dash to the Square as soon as the election results were apparent. Like thousands of others in the city that night, I fell asleep watching TV, still unsure of the outcome.

Watching CNN at the hotel breakfast buffet on Wednesday morning, I learned, along with those same thousands of tired voters that never got the chance to go to Copley Square the previous night, that Ohio was the too-close-to-call turning point of this presidential election. Whatever cautious optimism I may have held for the outcome was seriously damaged by the knowledge that the election would be decided in Ohio. On the ballot in all 88 counties of the state was a resolution to amend Article XV, Section 11, of the Ohio State Constitution which read: "Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid or recognized by this state and its political subdivisions. This state and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage." While the choice for president was hopefully bringing large numbers of Kerry supporters to the polls, a hotbed topic like alternative marriage was certain to mobilize heavy support from the conservative Republican segment of the population.

Ohio, like Pennsylvania and Florida, was a "battleground" state, one whose electoral votes were considered to be up for grabs because of large numbers of undecided voters. In those three states, coalitions of AFL-CIO member unions had worked tirelessly since January to educate voters and to "get out the vote" on Election Day. The emotionally and religiously charged marriage resolution on the Ohio ballot may have been responsible for a turnout that offset the efforts of the AFL-CIO. In 87 of 88 Ohio counties, the marriage issue was approved by a solid 3-2 margin. Only in Athens County, located in the southeastern portion of the state, was the issue defeated, and it was by a narrow margin. With victory in Ohio, President Bush was guaranteed the necessary electoral votes for re-election.

Immediately following the official declaration of Bush as the winner, APWU President William Burrus remarked, "The majority of Americans appear to have chosen a President based not on their economic interests or concern over the war in Iraq, but on their belief that George W. Bush can protect them from terrorism. For our part, the APWU must continue to protect the interests of postal workers," Burrus said. "It is worth noting that the day after the election, lobbyists for advertising mailers renewed their calls for postal reform, urging lawmakers to significantly overhaul the bills currently before the U.S. House and Senate. Buoyed by the victory of the Bush administration, the major mailers hope to modify our collective bargaining process to their benefit."

Obviously, postal reform legislation will be introduced early in the first session of the 109th Congress, which convenes in January, 2005. Despite APWU success in neutralizing reform legislation before the 108th Congress, we must anticipate that the bills introduced to the next Congress will have strong anti-worker, anti-union provisions that will require COPA action and intense political involvement from our membership. It is important to remember that the President's senior campaign advisor, Karl Rove, was the founder of Karl Rove and Co., an Austin-based consultation and direct mailing agency. Rove is well respected by Bush and has such a strong presence in the administration that he has been called "Bush's brain." Some political commentaries have suggested that Rove is consulted by President Bush on all major decisions. In an article that appears in the November, 2004, edition of The Atlantic Monthly, Joshua Green recognizes Rove's unscrupulous campaign tactics: "Karl Rove is at his most formidable when running close races, and his skills would be notable even if he used no extreme methods. But he does use them. His campaign history shows his willingness, when challenged, to employ savage tactics." Rove's intensity pervades all of his efforts and will no doubt lend itself to the President's postal reform campaign.

Postal reform by itself would be enough of a challenge for us to tackle, but we will begin negotiations in late 2005 for a new collective bargaining agreement. The contract extension of 2003 was an excellent maneuver to avoid splitting the focus of our national officers between contract talks and the President's Commission on the USPS. Rumors have surfaced that the Postal Service would not be receptive to another such extension, since they would like to attack the contractual guarantees of no lay-offs and cost-of-living adjustments. In addition, the impending threat of excess employee relocation because of automation and plant consolidation leaves us with a full plate, to borrow an over-used cliché.

Every member of the American Postal Workers Union must by now realize that the proverbial "future" is upon us. Several grassroots efforts must involve every member if our union is to survive the next four years unscathed. We must all contribute to COPA, if our legislative department is expected to be able to do any effective political lobbying and to advance our agenda. Most important, every member must make a concerted effort to bring all of the non-members into the union family. Educate them about how many "member only" benefits that we enjoy. Share with them the stories of success from the grievance and arbitration procedure. Convince them that their talents and their union dues are needed to help us with future challenges. The APWU is, after all, a business. Like all other businesses, we have operating expenses that are unavoidable. Efforts to trim our expenses, however, are being offset by the fact that the USPS is hiring virtually no new clerks, while our membership is constantly shrinking because of the retirement of our senior members.

Quite honestly, all postal employees, whether they are clerks, mail handlers, MVS, carriers, or supervisors at any level, are facing an immediate future that is hazy at best. The next four years of the Bush administration carry no promise for the stability of the Postal Service as we now know it. Every employee must communicate with legislators to be certain that our voice echoes from the halls of Congress to the Oval Office.