The National Association of Letter Carriers was founded in Milwaukee, WI in 1889, making it the first craft of postal workers to be organized. Beginning with just 52 branches and 175,000 members, the union rapidly spread across the country and now has 2,500 branches in all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, and Washington DC.
A key turning point in the history of the union was the great postal strike of 1970. Up until this point, postal employees were denied the freedom to collectively bargain. Its also true that they were denied the right to strike, but rebellion was in the air. The mood and timing was just right, and the rank and file activists in branch 36 in Manhattan took an enormous risk, and voted to strike.
The strike spread across the country in the weeks to come, making it the largest wildcat strike in US history. President Nixon attempted to beat the strike by calling in the National Guard to work as scab labor, but it turns out the tricks of the trade take time to learn, and the work stoppage continued in spite of their failed attempts.
The strike ended the era of “collective begging” in which the NALC had to plead to congress for wage increases and ushered in the era of collective bargaining, in which postal employees earned the right to sit across from management and reach a deal. The strike was a resounding success, with not a single worker being fired.
Since 1970, a good deal about their jobs has changed. Certain parts of postal work such as the sortation of letters have become more automated and the information era has led to innovations as well as challenges. While first class mail has been in decline, parcel volume has been increasing exponentially, making USPS the obvious choice for many small businesses across the country.
Come back on Wednesday to learn about the members of NALC Branch 2.