Viewpoint: Minneapolis Letter Carriers Showed We're Ready to Fight—Time for a National Contract Strategy
Letter carriers got a glimpse of what a fighting strategy to win a strong contract could look like when 150 workers and supporters rallied in downtown Minneapolis April 2 under the banner “Staffing, Safety, and Service—Letter Carriers Need a Raise!”
Members highlighted the root causes of the staffing crisis: mandatory overtime, pay that hasn’t kept up with inflation or with industry competitors like UPS, a toxic working environment at many stations created by bullying tactics from management, and overall poor working conditions that have led to huge attrition rates of new hires.
National contract negotiations between the Letter Carriers (NALC) and the U.S. Postal Service began at the end of February.
It’s a mistake that these national negotiations are usually done behind closed doors. In Minneapolis, we showed that rank-and-file members want to play an active role in the fight.
The public knows about mail delays in some communities, but not necessarily about the conditions that create them. While postal workers are legally barred from striking, we need to discuss how to use our power at the workplace and mobilize public support to put the maximum pressure on USPS to give in to our demands.
ANGER INTO ACTION
It was not automatic that this rally happened in the first place. NALC Branch 9 stewards mobilized rank-and-file members to pack the room at the February 28 general membership meeting, where we proposed a resolution to organize a rally with clear demands around the staffing crisis and the need for a strong contract.
We won the vote overwhelmingly. After that meeting, we had just over a month to organize the rally.
Last year, Branch 9 had created an Organizing Committee tasked with organizing inside and outside the union to rebuild relationships with unions and community organizations, and to support workers who are struggling to form new unions.
This year, the best way to accomplish this goal is to focus on winning a strong contract. The Organizing Committee met weekly between the February meeting and the rally on April 2.
As part of the resolution we passed, the Organizing Committee gave updates to the monthly stewards meeting and the March general membership meeting about the rally. We put forward the political arguments for the necessity of the rally to get more rank-and-file members active in the union, and to build public support for a strong contract.
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We gave stewards posters to put up at their stations, and equipped them with the reasons for the rally and the demands, so they could speak up at management’s daily “stand-up talk” the next morning.
The stand-up is generally a pretty boring routine where management reads from a print-out about safety—but then the steward gets an opportunity to speak about whatever they want. We used this chance to encourage stewards to engage the members on what’s going on in the union, and to show that management is not the only force on the workroom floor. We should continue this practice with regular discussions on our demands, updates on negotiations, and strategy to win.
Members are overworked, underpaid, and angry with working conditions at USPS—we just have to channel that frustration into an organized expression in the fight for a strong contract.
At the next general membership meeting on April 24, Branch 9 members will be bringing forward a resolution calling on NALC national leadership to organize coordinated rallies across the country to highlight the staffing crisis, poor working conditions, and the need for a strong contract to address them.
This is not only an opportunity for the union to engage tens of thousands of NALC members (many likely for the first time), but would also strengthen our position at the negotiating table.
We can harness public opinion to build pressure on USPS to end mandatory overtime, raise pay, and overall improve working conditions to solve the staffing crisis. NALC leadership should organize Zoom meetings of all shop stewards and elected leadership across the country to help coordinate and organize these rallies.
In the meantime, Branch 9 stewards are organizing a national Zoom meeting on Sunday, May 7, at 12 p.m. Central (register here) to discuss how we organized the Minneapolis rally and equip NALC members with the resources to organize rallies of their own elsewhere.
There will be a section of the union leadership that opposes a fighting strategy on the basis that it will hurt their back-room negotiations with management. They are wrong. This failed approach got us into this crisis in the first place.
Tyler Vasseur is a letter carrier and shop steward in NALC Branch 9.