Young Workers Learn How to Educate, Agitate, Organize!

October 28, 2015

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Young workers discuss how to refute common
misconceptions about the economy 
and practice the art of persuasion.

2015 was the centennial of the execution of labor activist Joe Hill. His famous last words were, “Don't mourn... Organize.”

These were the opening remarks of APWU President Mark Dimondstein at the APWU Young Workers Meeting held in Las Vegas, on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2015. Young people representing over 20 locals assembled during the All-Craft Conference.

Labor history was one focus, beginning with Dimondstein’s remarks about the early labor movement, and continuing later with a panel of APWU retirees: Eleanor Bailey, John Richards, and Retirees Director Judy Beard, who were on the front lines during the Great Postal Strike of 1970, out of which the APWU was born.

The need for future leaders to learn about labor history – especially the roots of the postal labor movement – was emphasized, so young workers can prepare themselves to face today’s struggles and avoid the trap of complacency. Participants were urged to educate, agitate and organize in the fight to save good jobs and preserve a vibrant public Postal Service in the Age of Technology.

Economic Justice

Young workers today face a system of economic inequity that is destroying their chance at a prosperous future. In that regard, a portion of the conference focused on the AFL-CIO’s Common Sense Economics, explaining how the economy works, led by Rachel Walthall and Courtney Jenkins.  

For most workers, real wages have remained flat since the early 1970s. In 1970, 28 percent of U.S. workers were union members, compared with just 11 percent today. As union membership declined, so did average wages, while the share of income going to the top 10 percent increased.

Breaking up into small groups, the attendees worked on solutions to myths regarding the economy commonly heard today. Myth #1: Companies must make cuts or lower pay and benefits to be competitive; Myth #2: Unions are bad for business, and Myth #3: As a nation we are broke and have to cut public spending.

A segment titled, “Understanding the Postal Service, ‘The Big Picture’” included a presentation on the structure of the Postal Service, including the Board of Governors (BOG) and Postal Rate Commission (PRC), by Clerk Craft Director Clint Burleson.  

Meeting attendees learned that the apparent political stalemate over the future of the Postal Service is due in part to the affiliations of the members of the BOG and PRC. The APWU is actively opposing the current set of nominees to the BOG, which includes a lobbyist for the payday lending industry and a strong advocate postal privatization, among others. 

President Mark Dimondstein and Secretary-Treasurer Liz Powell with attendees of the Young Workers Meeting.

Attendees broke into pairs to improve their skills on ways to educate friends and neighbors on the struggle of the public Postal Service. The importance of keeping informed and being able to articulate to the public the underlying causes of the crisis at hand was stressed, focusing on issues such as Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA) pre-funding requirements, POStPlan, and Network Rationalization.  The public often only sees the symptoms of the crisis, such as mail always being late or the Postal Service being in debt.

During a panel discussion consisting of young elected APWU officers the need for more activism within the APWU was explored. Panelists were Daleo Freeman, president Cleveland Area Local; Braden Pelky, president Eugene Area Local; Jennifer Kowalczyk, chief steward 480-481 Area Local; Katherine Liek, secretary, Wenatchee Local; Arrion Brown, director of Support Services Nation's Capital/Southern Maryland Area Local; Tiffany McDaniel, 480-481 Area Local; Tina Valdez-Luna, Southern Oregon Area Local; Erin Brown, Salt Lake City Area Local, and Aaron Wentzel, Lubbock Area Local.

A message repeated throughout the day was: Younger members must step up and become activists, especially as an increasing number of local officers approach retirement age. Also, in order to successfully defeat the challenges threatening the existence of the Postal Service, the APWU must become more of an activist organization instead of solely a “grievance machine.”  

When asked by national APWU officers what assistance they could provide future leaders, the response was overwhelmingly that young workers want more opportunities for education and mentoring, from the national as well as their locals. Also, they viewed the knowledge and experiences shared by the retiree panelists as a valuable asset.

“It was inspiring to see all the young workers come out from locals across the country and the discussions that came from sharing ideas; it gives me confidence that the future of our union is in good hands,” said Chris DeSalvo, Greater Hicksville/Mid-Island Local steward.

Plans are for the APWU to hold more Young Worker Meetings in the future.

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