Be the Change

Anna Smith

May 7, 2021

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(This article first appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

Routinely the Organizing Department receives emails, letters and phones calls from current members who are frustrated. Often, I think some of this angst stems from just being misinformed or uninformed and perhaps little of both at times. These email subject lines or starting narratives typically start with something like, “The union… isn’t,” “didn’t,” “hasn’t,” “won’t,” etc. Phrases that members on the workroom floor will occasionally hear from their co-workers. Rhetoric that no doubt most stewards and officers have heard more than once when trying to help someone.

Unfortunately, some of our co-workers and most of management like to blame “the union” for their issues. It is always going to be much easier to blame someone or something that they feel is not a real person, but rather an abstract organization.

Responses to these comments should be done in a manner that will be productive to both the member and to help them understand the true source of their frustration. The member, at that moment, wants their grievance heard, and my goal is put the blame where it belongs and to help them understand that they are the union. I want to help them see that if they want things changed, it begins with getting involved.

If your co-worker has an issue with “the union,” like it or not, they are referring to you. If you are the one blaming “the union,” or if you feel as though your interests are not fully being represented, whether it is in the grievance procedure, on the workroom floor, in your community or on Capitol Hill, your involvement is imperative if you want change. Complaining on the sidelines is easy. It does not solve anything but help management and further divide us. Get involved and make the change you want to see. Being a union member is not just about paying dues.

Consider for a moment what it would cost you to take on the United States Postal Service alone. Some may think they can do it better on their own, however, I have yet to ever hear of someone giving back all their union negotiated benefits such as annual and sick leave, or their wages they earn above what the minimum wage is for their state. Some think their current supervisor or postmaster will not do them wrong and would have their back if we were not unionized. Make no mistake, it makes no difference what sweet deals can be made locally; the Postmaster General would determine your wages, benefits and working conditions.

APWU union representatives are your co-workers, just like you. They are not your lawyer. Stewardship starts with a desire to make a difference, whether that is changing the way things are, making things better, or just simply the wanting to help others. Most stewards and officers work their regular postal job and go above and beyond to defend our rights, often at the expense of their family or free time. Having a local union representative does not take away the responsibility of members to be actively involved.

If you want to or have the ability to get involved but do not know who to reach out to, you can find your local union contact information by logging into Once logged in you will also have the opportunity to volunteer in areas that interest you. For us as a union to be effective in our communities, on the workroom floor and at the negotiation table – either for a personal grievance or national contract – we need to have a strong membership and membership involvement.

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