Internal Strife Can Destroy the Family

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(This article appears in the May-June 2014 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

Liz Powell, Secretary-Treasurer

We have heard it most of our lives: “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” That famous quote by President Abraham Lincoln referred to our national “house.” It certainly applies to our union, which is like a big family. We need unity to win the fights we must wage to protect our jobs and preserve the U.S. Postal Service.

Internal bickering and infighting are different than legitimate debate. Of course, we are not always going to agree; however, actions that undermine democracy, equality, respect and human dignity violate our union’s constitution. Public conflict, personal attacks, verbal insults and physical assaults have no place in our union.

The APWU’s constitution was established to form a more perfect union. By forming the APWU, our union’s founding fathers and mothers established an organization to fight the abuse that postal workers suffered at the hands of our employer. They also realized that we also frequently fall short of following the golden rule.

Members’ Rights

Our fight for better working conditions began in the 1870s. Our early leaders sacrificed greatly to improve the lives of postal employees. Leaders were fired for minor infractions, and those who fought for the eight-hour day in the 1880s were harassed and suspended.

Elected officers and stewards who violate the membership’s rights dishonor the memories of our forefathers and foremothers.

Over the years, in addition to fighting management, we struggled internally to build a union that would reflect our values and our goals. In 1897, we fought to free our organization from domination by supervisors. In 1902, convention delegates passed constitutional rules that would allow better representation. In 1921, we protested management-controlled “Welfare Councils” that hindered our efforts to represent ourselves.

In 1935, we finally secured rights, limited as they were, allowing employees a say in the work place.

Today, our union’s constitution includes specific protections for union members and for locals. This is necessary because throughout our 130 years of struggle to improve wages and working conditions, there have been selfish, invidious individuals who pretended to have the interests of the members at heart when in reality they worked against those interests by their actions – or inaction.

Keeping Cool

As your Secretary-Treasurer, my department handles the appeals of union members who have been charged with violations of the union constitution. However, my department makes a sincere effort to intercede before internal conflict escalates to the point that charges are filed.

We also work to prevent internal conflict by offering training classes on “fiduciary” responsibilities (which dictate that union officers must act in the best financial interest of union members), as well as officers’ other constitutional obligations.

Keep in mind, however, that our constitution says that each local union is autonomous and our constitution, as well as federal labor law, restricts the national union from interfering in local functioning.

We have had years of struggle to perfect our union. Our history reflects the real efforts of unionists to improve the lives of our members. Union members expect, as we should, that the officers we elect always have your best interests and welfare at heart.

Legitimate differences regarding union policy should be handled at meetings, where members can vote to set a course of action. Differences of opinion or union philosophy also can be addressed in union elections, which are required by law. That is when members decide who will lead the organization in the future.

So, the next time internal strife threatens to undermine your union family, remind the parties involved that in our history true unionists sacrificed it all to have a better union! Encourage them to resolve differences through sincere discussion and debate, rather than division and discord.

Visit the Secretary-Treasurer’s page at to find other items to help you and your local union function properly. You will find:

  • Constitution and By-Laws
  • Election of Union Officers
  • Dues Mailing Lists and Membership
  • Protecting Local Assets
  • Department of Labor Forms
  • IRS Forms 

Young Workers: Step Up, Attend the APWU Convention

The APWU has a message for its youngest members: We need you!

“We need the enthusiasm and creativity that young workers can bring to the APWU,” said President Mark Dimondstein. “We want young union members to get involved and to put their stamp on the APWU.”

“Every generation of workers brings new ideas, new experiences, and new talent,” Secretary-Treasurer Liz Powell added. “But for more than a decade the USPS did virtually no hiring. In the last few years the Postal Service has hired tens of thousands of Postal Support Employees, including many who are 35 or younger. We want to get them involved in the APWU.”

To encourage young union members to participate, the national APWU will reimburse one-half of the expenses paid by locals or state organizations for at least one delegate who is 35 or younger. “The APWU National Convention is a great place to learn about the union, to get motivated and inspired, and to make your voice heard,” Powell said.

To qualify, locals must submit the name of the union member, along with certification that he or she will be 35 or younger at the time of 2014 National Convention, no later than June 2. Information should be sent to

The program is based on a resolution adopted by the AFL-CIO to encourage young workers to get active in the labor movement.

“I encourage every young worker to think about the important role he or she can play in making postal jobs better – for themselves, for their co-workers, and for those who come after them – and to strengthen the union in the process,” Dimondstein said.  

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