The threat of privatization hung in the air as thousands of postal worker union members met in separate conventions July 21-25. More than 6,000 National Association of Letter Carriers delegates met in Philadelphia, while 2,000 delegates attended the American Postal Workers Union convention in Chicago.
Both unions organized marches to nearby Staples stores responding to a boycott called by the APWU. Last fall, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) announced a no-bid, sweetheart deal for a “pilot project” to open postal counters in more than 80 Staples stores in four states. The boycott has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO; American Federation of Teachers; Service Employees; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; the Firefighters union; and many other labor and community organizations.
The unity created by the recently formed Postal Union Alliance was demonstrated when National Postal Mail Handlers Union President John Hegarty addressed the APWU meeting and when APWU President Mark Dimondstein spoke from the NALC convention via video. (The National Rural Letter Carriers Association is the fourth union in the PUA.)
The theme of the APWU convention was “Stand Up, Fight Back,” which was reflected in such workshops as “How to Win a Grievance Without Filing (Using Our Power at Work)” and “Building Worker-Community Coalitions to Fight Post Office Consolidations.” Delegates unanimously passed resolutions in support of fast food and Walmart workers’ struggles for higher pay and a union.
The APWU announced plans to fight the closure and consolidations of 82 processing plants with new emphasis on coalition building with other unions and community groups. NALC President Fredric Rolando has pledged to support that campaign, though no specific details were announced.
Members of Community-Labor United for Postal Jobs and Services (CLUPJS) and Community and Postal Workers United (CPWU) handed out 4,000 fliers urging delegates to attend a “Forum for a Broad United Fightback Against Privatization.” Organizers urged union officials, shop stewards and letter carriers to view their struggle against privatization in the context of the challenges facing the whole U.S. multinational working class.
The event featured Warren McLendon, of APWU Local 7048; Christa Parlacoski, of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ Caucus of Working Educators; and Justin Watson, of Fight for $15. CLUPJS leader Johnnie Stevens and CPWU organizers Dave Welsh and Melissa Rakestraw all emphasized how the unions and workers represented at the forum share a common interest in fighting together against privatization and raising wages for all workers.
Invited speakers Wendell Young IV, president of Food and Commercial Workers Local 1776, and Joe McGarrity, of Utility Workers Union 686, did not attend, because they were reluctant to cross the informational picket line set up by the Carpenters Union outside the Convention Center. They promised to participate in a future forum.
Forum organizers invited Ronald Curran, of Carpenters Local 8, to address the meeting. He explained to the 50 labor and community members that while four of six building trades’ unions have agreed to a “customer service agreement” with Convention Center management, the Teamsters Union and the Carpenters have been unfairly locked out since May 9.
Many NALC members joined the carpenters’ rally on the street on the last two days of the convention. The Metropolitan Regional Council of Carpenters responded by officially endorsing the Staples boycott and organizing a contingent of 20 members to join more than 300 letter carriers who marched to the Staples store.
Broad fightback can win
APWU membership has already been reduced by tens of thousands of workers, reflecting the USPS management’s decisions to close half of all postal processing plants, reduce window service hours and close thousands of post offices. After a decade of serious setbacks, the APWU leadership and membership seem ready to “Stand Up, Fight Back.”
Letter carriers are beginning to understand that what happens to other postal workers ultimately affects them. For instance, increased distances between mail processing plants result in late mail delivery for carriers, often forcing them to make unsafe home deliveries in the dark.
Postal workers are not alone. Workers at city, state and federal levels all face threats of privatization, which, at its core, is a drive to replace unionized workers earning decent wages and benefits with low-wage, non-union workers. Privatization and austerity mean the services our communities need are reduced, but at a higher price to boot. It’s in the interest of all workers, organized and unorganized, and neighborhood organizations to join in the common fight against the forces of privatization — the 1%.