The American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, represents more than 220,000 employees of the U.S. Postal Service who are clerks, maintenance employees, and motor vehicle service workers. The APWU is the world's largest postal union.
Postal unions, dating back to the 19th Century, have experienced a number of transitions, paralleling the growth of the former Post Office Department, which became the U.S. Postal Service in 1970. Upon the creation of the USPS, postal unions were allowed to bargain collectively over wages and conditions for the first time.
The early unions had essentially no bargaining rights — they existed largely as lobbying organizations that otherwise would have had no say about their working conditions. Wage increases depended on the whim of Congress.
As a result, postal workers were chronically underpaid. In March 1970, full-time employees earned about $6,200 to start, and workers with 21 years of service averaged only $8,440 — barely enough to make ends meet at that time. In fact, many postal workers qualified for food stamps.
The sporadic raises they did receive never seemed to amount to much, particularly in high-cost urban areas. From 1967 to 1969, postal wages were not increased at all, although Congress did raise its own pay 41 percent during that time. In 1968, the Kappel Commission, a special panel that had been studying postal reform during President Johnson's administration, concluded that postal workers deserved the same collective bargaining rights afforded to private-sector workers under the National Labor Relations Act. Congress failed to act on the commission's recommendation.
The Great Postal Strike of 1970
"The Strike that Couldn't Happen"
Workers grew increasingly frustrated with Congress's inaction, and on March 18, 1970, thousands of New York City postal workers walked off the job in protest. Within days, they were joined by 200,000 others in 30 major cities. Mail service ground to a halt and the plight of postal workers was brought to the public's attention. [Time Magazine article, March 30, 1970 - PDF] The strike was soon settled, with Congress approving a 6 percent wage increase, retroactive to the previous December.
The strike served as an impetus for the enactment of the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, which granted unions the right to negotiate with management over their wages, benefits and working conditions. In lieu of the right to strike, a binding arbitration process was established for resolving contract disputes. The law granted postal workers an additional 8 percent raise and enabled them to advance more quickly to higher-paying positions.
In the first contract, a starting postal worker's salary was raised to $8,488: slightly more than a 21-year veteran of the Post Office Department had been getting just three years earlier.
Since that first contract more than four decades ago, APWU has fought for dignity and respect on the job for the workers we represent, as well as for decent pay and benefits and safe working conditions. And as part of the AFL-CIO, the APWU fights for social and economic justice for all working families.
The APWU was founded on July 1, 1971, the result of a merger of five postal unions. The two largest unions involved in the merger were the United Federation of Postal Clerks, which represented those who "worked the windows" at post offices and those who sorted and processed mail behind the scenes, and the National Postal Union, which claimed members in each craft. Both traced their origins to the National Federation of Postal Clerks, which was created in Chicago in 1906.
Two smaller unions involved in the merger were the National Association of Post Office and General Service Maintenance Employees, which represented those who serviced and repaired machines located in postal facilities, and who cleaned and maintained the facilities; and the National Federation of Motor Vehicle Employees, which represented workers who drove, repaired, and serviced postal vehicles. The smallest union in the merger was the National Association of Special Delivery Messengers.
All these workers are now covered by a single contract negotiated by representatives of all the crafts within the single labor organization, the American Postal Workers Union.
Since the Merger
Four months before the Postal Reorganization Act was signed into law, U.S. Post Office Department management and postal unions announced a joint agreement on a reorganization plan. When the PRA became law on Aug. 12, 1970, it created the United States Postal Service, which on Jan. 20, 1971, participated in the first collective bargaining session with seven postal unions, including five that were soon to merge into the APWU.
Exactly six months later, on July 20, 1971, a two-year contract was signed by the new USPS and the APWU unions, along with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), the National Rural Letter Carriers Association (NRLCA), and the National Postal Mail-Handlers Union (NPMHU).
In 1973, 1975, and 1978, the APWU, NALC, NPMHU, and NRLCA bargained jointly as they had in 1971. In 1981, however, the APWU and NALC formed the Joint Bargaining Committee (JBC) and negotiated together. The JBC negotiated three-year contracts with the USPS in 1981, 1984, and 1987, and a four-year agreement in 1990.
Since 1994, the APWU has bargained on its own. Successive agreements ran from 1994-1998, 1998-2000, and 2000-2003. In December 2002, the APWU membership voted to extend the 2000 agreement by two years, until Nov. 20, 2005. In August 2005, APWU members ratified a one-year contract extension. In late 2006, the union reached an agreement with the Postal Service for a four-year contract, which was ratified overwhelmingly APWU members on Jan. 12, 2007. On May 11, 2011 approved a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The contract will expire May 20, 2015.
'100 Years of Progress'
First unveiled at the union’s 18th Biennial National Convention, this 17-minute presentation traces the origins of the postal workers union movement, which led to the formation of the APWU. [watch]
APWU History (1874-1970)
The APWU can trace its history as far back as 1874, when the Railway Mail Mutual Benefit Association (RMMBA) was formed. While the railroad clerks were mainly interested in securing a low-rate life insurance plan, the "MBA" also tried to lobby for improved wages and working conditions.
In 1891, MBA representatives met in Cincinnati and formed the National Association of Railway Postal Clerks (NARPC). In 1904, NARPC changed its name to the Railway Mail Association (RMA).
In 1949, the RMA changed its name to the National Postal Transport Association (NPTA). At the time, 28,000 NPTA members were employed by the Post Office.
In 1961, the NPTA joined with two of the three largest postal clerk unions (NFPOC and UNAPOC) to form the 115,000-member United Federation of Postal Clerks (UFPC).
NFPOC, the National Federation of Post Office Clerks, was chartered in 1906. Because the organization's locals hailed from seven cities that were as far apart as San Francisco and Nashville, this is considered the birth of the truly national postal workers union.
Some historical records indicate that UNAPOC, the United National Association of Post Office Clerks, existed in some form as early as 1881. It is known that an organizational meeting held in New York City in November 1899 resulted in the adoption of a constitution in early 1900. The rival NFPOC and UNAPOC periodically made attempts to join forces, with NFPOC, however, insisting that the other organization first needed to behave more like a union, which included not permitting supervisors among its ranks.
In 1957, UNAPOC made significant changes, including to its name. After nearly 60 years, the "C" officially stood not for "Clerks" but for "Craftsmen." This was key to its perception of itself as representing a craft; supervisors could do clerks' work, but they couldn't be part of the craft. In 1961, NFPOC and UNAPOC formed the UFPC, the United Federation of Postal Clerks.
One other group is central to the history of the APWU, the short-lived National Postal Union. At the NFPOC convention in 1958, a group calling itself the "Progressives" disaffiliated and formed the National Postal Clerks Union. At its second convention, the NPCU dropped "clerks" from its name and became the NPU.
The NPU did not join with NFPOC and UNAPOC when they formed the UFPC in 1961; it remained an independent postal union until the merger that created the APWU in 1971. Prior to the merger, the UFPC was one of seven unions, including four other future APWU units, to be part of the first negotiations with the newly created Postal Service. The NPO was not part of the seven-union coalition bargaining team.
The seven unions that bargained the first contract with the USPS included the UFPC (Clerk Craft); the NAPO&GSME (Maintenance Craft); the NFPOMVE (Motor Vehicle Service Craft); and the NASDM (Special Delivery Messenger Craft).
The earliest piece of today's APWU Maintenance Division was the National Association of Post Office Mechanics (NAPOM), formed in 1937. NAPOCE, the National Association of Post Office Custodial Employees was formed a year later. In 1945, NAPOM changed its name to the National Association of Post Office Mechanics and Maintenance Employees (NAPOM&ME) and in 1947, that organization and NAPOCE merged, creating the National Association of Post Office and General Service Maintenance Employees (NAPO&GSME), which in 1971 became the APWU Maintenance Division.
The National Association of Post Office Chauffeurs and Mechanics Union (NAPOC&MU) was formed in 1923. By 1939, it had changed its name to the National Federation of Post Office Motor Vehicle Employees (NFPOMVE)
The National Association of Special Delivery Messengers (NASDM) was created in 1932. Originally the messengers were contract employees with local postmasters. They were brought into the Civil Service system in 1942. There were 2,500 postal employees in the NASDM at the time of the merger in 1971. In 1998, delegates to the APWU National Convention approved the merger of the SDM Craft into the Clerk Craft.