Home of the Brave

Mark Dimondstein

March 16, 2020

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(This article first appeared in the March/April 2020 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

What bravery! 50 years ago, postal workers made history with the Great Postal Strike of 1970 and faced real and tough questions: Should I break the law? Might I be fined or arrested? Will I lose my job?

In 1970, postal employees worked for low pay and long hours under deplorable working conditions. Many qualified for public assistance and held multiple jobs to make ends meet. “Collective begging” to Congress for more wages and better treatment failed the workers.

When Congress voted themselves a huge pay raise, pentup anger led to action. New York City postal workers from all crafts took matters into their own hands. They defied the law, their own national union leaders and their government. The strike quickly spread to 30 cities with 210,000 workers withholding their labor.

Workers’ power brought Wall Street and the politicians to their knees! By standing tall, postal workers gained a new self-respect. They won collective bargaining rights and achieved significant wage gains, COLAs and job security. Out of the strike the APWU was born when five postal unions merged into one. Decades of progress followed.

I was hired in 1983, just 13 years after the great strike. My family’s life became much better with good union wages, benefits and job security – the inheritance left to all future postal workers.

The lessons of the strike are profound: no law can deny workers our inherent right to withhold our labor to improve our lives (once again proven by the education workers from West Virginia and beyond); postal union unity is key to victory; we can take on powerful adversaries and win; and as the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass declared, “power concedes nothing without a demand.”

We best honor the courageous strikers by carrying the torch of justice forward as the struggle continues to save our union, our jobs, and the public Postal Service and to build a country and world that respects and uplifts the 99%.

A New Union Contract

With the victorious strike, postal workers became the only federal workers to have full collective bargaining rights.

50 years later we are still reaping the benefits.

After a long battle, we now have the results of the final and binding Interest Arbitration Award setting forth the terms of our new union contract. Arbitration never completely favors one side or the other. But thanks to your union membership, involvement and a strong and well-prepared union case, we once again have gained a solid union contract with great job security. Retroactive pay raises and COLAs were achieved. Big gains were made in bridging the gaps in the multi-tier pay scales with the restoration of some higher step increases in Grades 5-8 of the lower pay scale. Thousands of PSEs will gain career conversions. No lay-off protections and the limit of a 50-mile radius for excessing were maintained (for details of the Award see page 6).

Some perspective: management made draconian demands. They advocated for a third lower tier career wage scale. They demanded more non-career employees. They sought to weaken our no lay-off protections. They said we did not deserve any general wage increases. They proposed COLA should be lump sum payments.

What stopped this backward march? You the member! That’s right. In a non-union workplace, management would have simply implemented their changes. With our union, we had the organized vehicle to fight back, wage a good contract campaign, counter with our own progressive demands and, if necessary, engage in final and binding arbitration.

I thank all of those involved, starting with you, the member, the foundation of our union. Industrial Relations Director Vance Zimmerman did an outstanding job planning and coordinating the union’s case. National craft officers provided key testimony. Worker witnesses were terrific. Our staff, attorneys and economists were right on the money.

Job well done! Onward!

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