by Mo Merow, National Business Agent, Clerk Division, Denver Region
From time to time I, as well as other union officials, hear a simple question. We hear it often and it is sometimes disturbing to those of us who have dedicated our time to represent the membership. The question? “Why am I paying union dues?” Followed by the comment “The union doesn’t do anything for me!” That question leads us to a brief history lesson.
Prior to 1970, there were no postal unions. There were employee associations, but they had no bargaining power. They could not bargain for pay raises, benefits or working conditions on behalf of employees. Subs, (later called PTFs) were not guaranteed any hours because they were never “scheduled”. Few had a chance to ever become full-time. The mail was transported by train or truck back then and Subs would come into the facility and “hang around” waiting to go to work. They would sit in the breakroom, off the clock, waiting for a supervisor to come in and tell them to unload a train or truck. An employee could come in and sit all day and never be one of those chosen to go and unload the truck. If they were lucky enough to be told to clock in and unload the train or truck, when they finished they were told to clock out and they would go back to the breakroom to wait for the next opportunity to clock in and work a few hours. Some, but not all would be given an opportunity to distribute the mail. After that load of mail was distributed, they would clock out and join others in the breakroom.
There was no collective bargaining. The representatives of employees associations would spend what little money they could scrape together to travel to Washington D.C. to lobby their Congressmen and Senators for better working conditions and pay raises. The United States Post Office Department was a federal agency and part of the cabinet. The only way they were successful was by a vote of support for their issues in Congress, which was rare. Congress had complete control of the employee’s wages and working conditions.
In 1970, fed up with their low wages and poor working conditions, the employees of the Post Office Department went on strike. Striking against the federal government was a felony, but the employees were willing to take that risk in an attempt to bring awareness and improvement to their plight.
After two weeks, and under political and public pressure, elected officials understood the public was on the side of the striking workers, and finally broke down and invited a few worker representatives to sit down and air their grievances. In return, the postal workers went back to work and after weeks of negotiating, the Postal Reorganization Act was passed and signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon on March 12.
The Act allowed the employees to form unions with collective bargaining. It further provided for employees to reach their top step in eight years instead of waiting 21 years like they did prior to the strike.
Through the years the union has improved on each contract that has been negotiated. We can always find someone who believes the working conditions are not acceptable, but the resignation rate among Postal Service employees is less than 5%. That’s a strong indication that this is a damn good job – thanks to those who came before us, put their jobs on the line at the risk of jail (and some of them were jailed during the 1970 strike) and those that have stepped up to the plate since to keep the union going.
Those who pay dues contribute to the strength of this union. Is this a perfect job? Absolutely not, but where else can you find comparable wages, benefits, working conditions and representation? Most of us cannot, or we would already be gone. Most of us don’t go anywhere because there is nowhere to go where we would have similar benefits. We are stuck with the Postal Service, but when you look around, there’s a lot worse jobs we could be “stuck” in.
Just consider, is your glass half empty or half full? Take a few minutes and think about it. We have a pay and benefits package that is second to none. We are making a decent, livable wage with which to keep our families comfortable, with health insurance to keep them healthy and life insurance to be assured our families will survive, if anything happens to us. We work every day toward the American dream including retirement benefits at the end of our careers.
I am proud to be a union member. When I retire, I will continue to pay union dues and give back to the very organization that gave me the ability to raise my family and retire with a decent income.