VOICE ARTICLE April/May 1996

Computers, E-Mail, the Internet and more!

By Spence F. Burton, Former President Branch 214

With this issue of the VOICE, I will begin a series of articles concerning the computer world of yesterday, today and tomorrow. I will cover such subjects as:
  1. How our National, State and local unions are currently using computers
  2. How, I hope, they will utilize computers in the near and distant future
  3. How other unions have utilized their computers
  4. How E-Mail and the World Wide WEB influence our jobs now, and how they may influence our future
  5. Addresses (both E-Mail and WEB sites) of popular union forums on the internet
  6. How we all can benefit from the instantaneous sharing of information.

This months article is an overview of the current status of computerization in OUR union!

The National Union has been computerized since at least the early 1970s, to some degree. In the beginning, they used a "mainframe" type "mini" computer system, based on the IBM System 36 system, that was popular with large companies at the time. There was "no such thing" as a "personal computer" or PC back then. Our branch, about 10 years later, purchased an IBM System 23 mini computer to computerize our membership records, and with a goal of computerizing grievances and branch finances. Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, the System 23 proved to be a very difficult machine to operate, and very little software existed for it. While it cost us around $16,000, it rapidly proved to be obsolete. Dana Joiner worked diligently to set up the membership database, and was generally responsible for "figuring out how to use it"!

Eventually, when I became President, we replaced the System 23 with a much more simpler to use Apple II system. Cost was around $2500, and it had far more software available. I prepared arbitration cases, step 3 appeals and other things regularly on this system. When Apple decided to stop supporting the Apple II systems, we realized that it was time to move on. Within the last few years, the officers and members decided it was time to move to the MSDOS/Windows realm. We purchased several Pentium Computers, which are now networked throughout our local union office (thanks to Stuart Maggio). All branch Step 2, and above, grievances are directly input into our computers for instant retrieval.

We are currently in the process of computerizing all of our branch financial records, and will, someday soon, be "on-line" for our members to reach via E-Mail.

Unfortunately, the National Union has not been progressing as rapidly as we and many other branches. At the last National Convention a resolution was passed urging the National Union to provide CD ROMs of all arbitration decisions to the branches to help with grievance processing. At first, National hesitated to provide this detailed information, then after some gentle "nudging" they produced a CD ROM containing the desired decisions. While their effort was well received by the many branches who already had the necessary equipment, the cost to the branches for the CD ROM (in my opinion) was exorbitant. A CD ROM costs approximately $20 or less to produce, yet our National Union is charging branches approximately $200 for the initial CD. Most branches figured that they would have to pay a reasonable price for a copy, plus handling, but what National seems to have done is charge everyone for the cost of assembling the information. I personally believe that this is wrong! Our National Dues should have paid for assembling the information that they already possessed, and the local branches should not have been charged such a large fee!

Another problem with this particular CD ROM is that it is not indexed and cross indexed as one would think it should be. In other words, it is just "raw data"! There is no simple "search engine" built into it! To put it in simple turns, it is kind of like trying to find something in the Bible (having never read its contents before), without an index! Not an easy task without reading the entire Bible, and nowhere near as helpful as it should be. A little more work on the part of National would have produced an excellent, searchable file system. With the advent of the World Wide Web, a simple "hyperlink or hypertext" format would have done wonders to improve this CD.

Moving on, last year the National established a committee to look towards planning for the year 2000 for our union. This can be an excellent step in the right direction, IF they seek out those in the union who have imagination and some experience in the world of computers. Our national officers, on the whole, do an excellent job in representing the membership, but they need to go "outside" the inner circle to search for input and creative ideas on bringing us into the future. While several local unions (and the AFL-CIO) are now publishing WEB pages on the Internet, there is no Official NALC page where members can instantly seek information and guidance. To those members who feel that computers will take away our jobs and we shouldn't be active on the Internet, let me just ask all of you if you write a letter everytime you need to talk to someone, or you pick up the phone! Yes, the Internet will effect our jobs, but probably never as much as the telephone has and will in the future. We must utilize the best technology available at all times! To be able to instantly access a national or local database of information, will enable our representatives to better serve us on a daily basis. We can't stick our heads in the sand and hope the Internet just goes away, anymore than we can ignore the ultimate computerization of the Postal Service. If we are going to deal with management on a "level playing field", we must have the tools to do so!!!

To that end, recently I added a copy of the San Francisco Local Contract to my own Personal WEB site on the Internet. It is formatted in such a way that you just click on an Article number or subject and you immediately jump to the actual data. It didn't take me much time to format it, nor should it take that much time for others to do the same to the National Contract, and all the Postal Service Manuals that we have to live with in our lives as letter carriers. It shouldn't take much effort to have all the pertinent information about our Health Plan available also! Recent grievance decisions, that could be used to support ongoing grievances, should be made available on-line as soon as possible! It is not really the time or expense involved, it is the DESIRE to do it! A desire to make the facts available to the members! A desire to make this an even more democratic union! Knowledge breeds Power, as someone once said, and the more Knowledge the branches and the "rank-n-file" members have the more Power they have when they are dealing with management!

If you have any comments about this article, or you have any suggestions or comments on how our union should be utilizing technology,
You can write me at: PO Box 471214 San Francisco, CA 94147
E-Mail me at: NALC214@SpenceBurton.com
Or visit my WEB page at: http:/www.SpenceBurton.com/

If you want to have your WEB Page "linked" to mine, or want to have your WEB site listed in a future issue of The Voice, just let me know. Several other NALC branches have direct links from my site.

Together we can help bring our union into the 21st Century!

This page was orignally place online in 1996
This page was last updated (links ONLY): June 30, 3003
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Questions, comments, suggestions should be addressed to: Spence F. Burton at: NALC214@SpenceBurton.com

© March, 1996 All Rights Reserved -- permission to copy non-personal information (excluding "coded" calendars and graphics, except for link purposes) is given, as long as appropriate recognition and written notice is given to the author. No personal information from GEDCOM files etc. may be copied in ANY WAY , without my express written consent! This page was originally produced using MS Word Internet Assistant and enhanced significantly with Netscape Gold Ver. 3.0. It is best viewed with Netscape Version 2.0 or better, with a screen resolution of 800x600 pixels!