Featuring Research Volunteer Contributions

Labor Unions & Associations

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Special Delivery Messengers' Association banner

Employees find a collective voice and representation through their labor unions and associations. Membership is closely tied to one's professional identity, especially so in the sizable postal workforce with its great variety of jobs. For many employees, communal association continued beyond the workplace. Some postal employees joined after-work clubs and groups where they could socialize and show off their artistic or sporting talents.

Late-nineteenth-century American workers struggled for better working conditions not only in privately-owned companies but also within the government as well. Within the Post Office Department, city carriers were the first to begin to organize with a common goal to fight for an eight-hour workday. Clerks, rural carriers, railway mail clerks, and others soon assembled to act for their own interests. Focusing on and winning most battles over working conditions, they found little headway in the fight to challenge the patronage system that often awarded jobs and promotions on a political basis.

By the late 1960s, postal operations and employees alike suffered from an outdated system. A presidential commission assembled to address the problems. Tired of waiting for a solution, a group of union and association leaders moved to strike on March 18, 1970. Negotiations commenced while President Nixon ordered the Army to deliver the mail. Finally winning a wage increase, postal workers helped ensure that workers' issues would be an important part of a new system. The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 provided for collective bargaining that recognizes negotiations between union representatives and the employer. Today every non-executive position within the U.S. Postal Service is represented by an association or union.

National conventions continue to offer the opportunity for workers to gather together. They serve effectively to boost morale, strengthen the union or association, and permit the conducting of official business through meetings, votes, and declarations.

Postal employees bonded over shared interests outside of work as well. The great American pastime has long called enthusiastic amateurs to baseball fields across the United States. Postal workers have been among those gladly spending their days off for a chance to play ball and often wore specially made uniforms that showed them to be on a "post office" team. Postal workers have formed teams for a number of other sports as well. Those who were more musically inclined joined postal bands and choruses where they were available.

Lynn Heidelbaugh, National Postal Museum