Anibal Guadalupe
First Vice President, Treasurer
Outlook March / April 2019
How We Got Here
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this article, I think it’s important to give you a brief history on what is now known as the United States Postal Service. The Postal Service has been controlled by the government since its inception in 1775. That’s not a typo. This country had a postal system before there was an official country.

In the early years all the positions in the post office, from the postmasters down to the letter carriers, were appointed by politicians. Those who were fortunate enough to get hired were expected to campaign on their behalf. Job security was directly connected to your political affiliation. It was legal to replace employees that were not in the same party as the current elected officials. There would be little change in the system until 1883 when Congress passed the Pendleton Act. This was the first civil service law.

Among other things, the law provided that letter carriers had to take a competitive test. From then on, the letter carrier position did not depend on what party you belonged to, nor could you be legally fired for political reasons. Although this was a step in the right direction there was still much more that needed to change.

Now that politicians could not rely on carriers to campaign for them Congress began to care less and less for their welfare. This in turn had an unanticipated outcome. Carriers realized that since they could not count on help from Congress, they had to look out for each other and began to get organized around the country. A New York letter carrier association was founded in 1863; another was founded in Chicago in 1870. These associations realized how important it was to have friends in Congress that could address issues that could not otherwise be resolved.

The eight-hour work day, vacation time and regular pay for carriers did not exist. In fact, how much vacation time a carrier would get and how much he or she made depended on the size of the city they worked in. Although Congress passed an eight-hour law in 1868 for federal workers, the Post Office Department refused to comply. It wasn’t until 1888 that along with lobbying and the help of Samuel “Sunset” Cox, a Congressman from New York, a bill was passed creating the eight-hour work day for letter carriers. Seeing what could be accomplished by working together for better working conditions, letter carriers decided to organize a union. On August 29, 1889 in a meeting hall above Schaefer’s Saloon in Milwaukee, the NALC was born. The next day the NALC’s first president was elected and an Executive Board was appointed to coordinate legislative efforts.

In the following years a series of executive actions prohibiting postal employees from visiting Washington DC to influence legislation were issued. Apparently, the government saw the potential of carriers to succeed in their efforts to lobby for better working conditions and tried to suppress them. In the 1900’s, several gag orders were ordered forbidding carriers from lobbying Congress for wage increases, permitting the dismissal of employees without notice and banning carriers from discussing their working conditions in public. Through all this the NALC continued with their political efforts wherever and whenever possible.

The Post Office Department and Congress treated postal employees different than other federal workers. This changed in 1912 when the Lloyd-Lafollette Act was enacted rescinding the gag orders. The Act also gave postal workers the right to organize and join labor organizations but not to strike. The same year Congress passed two other bills that were equally important. The Reilly Eight-In-Ten-Hour Act specified that postal employees could not be required to spread their eight-hour shift over a period of more than 10 consecutive hours. The Mann Sunday Closing mandated the closing of post offices on Sunday.

There were many roadblocks and successes along the way, but I will fast forward to 1962. By Executive Order 10988, President John F. Kennedy established a formal labor relations program in the federal government. The struggles of the letter carriers were paying off. Later that year, the NALC gained the right to represent all letter carriers in grievance discussions and negotiate a contract, but those negotiations would exclude wages, hours and fringe benefits. Worst yet was the fact that although the Post Office Department had to negotiate with the NALC, there was no way to enforce the agreement. Management could disregard parts of the agreement simply by claiming an emergency.

Although there had been several modest wage increases through the years, by the mid-1960s the wages of letter carriers still lagged well behind workers in the private sector. In fact in some states, carrier wages were so low that they were eligible to receive food stamps and Medicaid. On June 20, 1969, with their patience wearing thin, over 2000 frustrated carriers protested in front of GPO in Manhattan with another 400 postal workers protesting in front of Grand Central Station. On July 1, 1969 almost all the carriers and clerks of Kingsbridge Station called in sick. They were all suspended. The next day 16 out of 36 carriers in Throggs Neck Station called in sick. They too were suspended. The stage was set for what was to follow.

In August of that year, the NALC National President James Rademacher promised the letter carriers in New York that if Congress did not approve a decent raise, he would call for a strike. He hoped that the threat alone would be sufficient to get Congress to act. At the same time, Rademacher was concerned that if a general strike were called only a few would go out. So in December, he met secretly with President Nixon at the White House who agreed to support a 5.4 percent increase effective January 1, 1970. Rademacher also agreed with the creation of a “postal authority” which would bargain with the postal unions over wages, hours, working conditions and binding arbitration. When this became public, the leaders of other postal unions and Congress were outraged for being left out of the negotiations

In the January 1970 Membership Meeting, everyone was furious and rejected the compromise made by Nixon and Rademacher. At the Branch 36 Membership Meeting on March 12, 1970, carriers vehemently raised their voices in favor of a strike instead of accepting the offer. The meeting got out of hand and the leadership agreed to arrange a vote and meet again the following week. At the time Branch 36 was the largest branch in the nation with 7200 members in the Bronx and Manhattan. On March 17, 1970 the vote to strike passed by a margin of 3 to 2 of the members who attended the meeting.

The following day almost every carrier in the Bronx and Manhattan picketed outside post offices along with over 25,000 postal clerks and drivers. Later that morning, carriers and postal workers in Brooklyn, Long Island, northern New Jersey and Connecticut joined the strike. In the following days branches in Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Denver and Chicago also walked out. By March 23rd, there were over 200,000 strikers across the country.

The strike ended on March 25th, but the message sent was loud and clear. Letter carriers were not going to stand by idly accepting empty promises. When the dust had settled, the old post office was now the U.S. Postal Service, there was a wage increase of 14 percent, collective bargaining now included wages, hours and working conditions and arbitration decisions were final and binding. Those brave men and women faced getting fired and imprisonment, but it was worth taking the risk if it meant real changes and a better living for them and their families.
What hasn’t changed is the fact that although there is a Board of Governors and a Postmaster General, the Postal Service is controlled by Congress. Unless we are vigilant and keep politically active, we can lose everything that has been gained since 1970 by the stroke of a pen. And now that you know the struggle it took to get to where we are today, I am asking each and every one of you to contribute a minimum of $1 per pay period through automatic deduction to the NALC Political Fund (LCPF). For less than the price of a cup of coffee every two weeks, your contribution will go a long way to ensure that Congressmen and Congresswomen want to keep the Postal Service viable and help it grow in today’s marketplace, stay in office or get elected.

Here are some of the things that are currently in the White House FY 2019 Budget Proposal:
• Raise the amount you have to contribute to FERS;
• Go from the current High-3 to High-5 thus reducing pension benefits;
• Eliminate COLAs for current and retired employees;
• Eliminate the Social Security supplement for FERS employees that retire before the age of 62 (potentially $13,200 per year until you reach 62.

These are some of the things that are at risk. To me $1 doesn’t seem too much to ask for. If you’re not on automatic deduction, please sign up. If you’re retired, you can make contributions through OPM straight from your annuity. If your allotment maxed-out, you can have the deductions come from your checking account. This is too important to stand by and do nothing.

I want to thank the members of Vincent R. Sombrotto Branch 36 for having elected me as your 1st Vice President. I pledge to do my very best to be worthy of your confidence and trust. I especially thank our President, Charles P. Heege, for having chosen me to be on his slate. My goal is to work harder today than I did yesterday, but not as hard as tomorrow, to better the lives of the carriers of the Vincent. R. Sombrotto Branch 36.
P.S. The next time you see a carrier who took part in the strike of 1970, shake her/his hand and thank them for their sacrifices.

P.S.S. Never before or since 1970 has there been a successful strike against the federal government.

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