There's Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality

There's Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality

There's Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality

There's Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality

Synopsis

This book brings to life the important but neglected story of African American postal workers and the critical role they played in the U.S. labor and black freedom movements. Philip Rubio, a former postal worker, integrates civil rights, labor, and left movement histories that too often are written as if they happened separately. Centered on New York City and Washington, D.C., the book chronicles a struggle of national significance through its examination of the post office, a workplace with facilities and unions serving every city and town in the United States.

Having fought their way into postal positions and unions, black postal workers--often college-educated military veterans--became a critical force for social change. They combined black labor protest and civic traditions to construct a civil rights unionism at the post office. They were a major factor in the 1970 nationwide wildcat strike, which resulted in full collective bargaining rights for the major postal unions under the newly established U.S. Postal Service in 1971. In making the fight for equality primary, African American postal workers were influential in shaping today's post office and postal unions.

Excerpt

From 1980 to 2000 I worked for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). I enjoyed most of the experience, especially working as a letter carrier, meeting and serving the public every day. I began my career in Colorado as a ptf (part-time flexible) clerk at the Denver Bulk Mail Center (BMC), making eight dollars an hour— more than twice what the post office was paying starting workers a decade before. and when I left the post office I was a full-time letter carrier in Durham, North Carolina, earning about twenty dollars an hour. Other benefits included paid annual and sick leave, a choice of government-sponsored health plans, and a full retirement pension for those who served at least thirty years.

From the first day I was hired I was keenly aware of being a beneficiary of the Great Postal Wildcat Strike of 1970 that forms a key part of this narrative. the results of that brave action by thousands of postal workers across the country meant that my coworkers and I now had relatively secure jobs, could belong to a union with full collective bargaining rights, and could earn enough to buy a home and help pay to send our kids to college.

When I started work in February 1980 with other new hires in Denver, I first had to take a strength test (clerks and mail handlers had to heft an eightypound mail sack). I also had to sign agreements that I would not strike, did not belong to organizations that advocated the government’s overthrow, was a high school graduate, and was not a convicted felon. From there each of us was on a ninety-day job probation en route to a potential usps career as a “regular” full-time career appointment.

The Denver bmc was huge, resembling factories where I had worked. Mail handlers loaded and unloaded trucks. Clerks electronically and manually processed parcels as well as moved bundles of bulk mail from conveyor belts into big dusty gray sacks divided by zip code. It was all monotonous work. But talking and socializing made it go faster. and there was also a culture of resistance to mandatory overtime and other controversial management practices. One supervisor on the bulk mail belt seemed particularly intent on ordering me to work faster. I must have looked pretty discouraged, because an older black clerk waited until the supervisor left after yet another tirade to tell me with a grin: “They’ll ride you your whole ninety days [probationary pe-

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