The Future of Our Union
APWU Forms National Young Members Committee
(This article first appeared in the September-October 2016 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine)
A young, energized, fighting spirit has gripped the APWU. And to build on the momentum, delegates to the union’s 23rd National Convention overwhelmingly approved a resolution to create a National Young Members Committee.
The resolution calls for a committee comprised of one young member and one alternate from each of the union’s five regions. The representatives will be recommended by the Regional Coordinators and appointed by the President.
Numerous young workers took to the convention’s floor microphones to speak in favor of the resolution. That’s no small matter: Imagine making a speech – even a short one – before an audience of 2,100 people!
The resolution, which was submitted by the Baltimore Area Local, says the committee will meet at least once per year and will report to each National Convention on the state of youth membership in the APWU.
“We have a wave of young workers coming in and they are not really sure of what the union is,” said Spencer Gilbert, 23, of the Western Michigan Area Local. “This will be a great way to get them organized and involved in the union.”
Sabrina Larsen, a member of the Salt Lake City Area Local, said, “We would like to learn and be mentored by more experienced people.”
Kandice Cunningham of the Las Vegas Area Local agreed. “We are the future of the APWU and the Postal Service, and if you guys are willing to share your knowledge and experience with us, nothing but progression and growth will continue to happen in this union,” she said.
“As young people, we really want to build on the hard work and rights you have all fought for. We don’t want any of your hard work to go to waste,” Cunningham continued. “We want to continue to fight for our rights and build this foundation that has become a platform for us. Nothing but growth can continue to come from young workers.”
However, a young worker and officer of the Billings [MT] Local, Justine Cool, spoke out against the resolution, contending that it promoted separation rather than unity.
“I think this is another box we are putting everyone into. I got involved at a local level and am here representing my local with everyone else. I think that’s the way to go, all together, right?” Cool said.
“We are here together, not to separate,” she continued. “It’s all about unity, not trying to segregate young workers versus old. Let’s all get together, that’s the point of this.”
An Ongoing Theme
Support and encouragement for the young workers was a theme throughout the convention. Courtney Jenkins, a member of the Baltimore Area Local’s Executive Board and the APWU’s representative to the AFL-CIO’s Young Worker Advisory Council, chaired the Formal Resolutions Committee, which recommended adoption of the National Young Members Committee.
Empowering Young Workers
Just prior to the official start of convention, a workshop on Empowering Young Workers gave youthful activists the opportunity to address the challenges they face.
Robin Robertson, Secretary-Treasurer of the St. Louis Gateway Area Local, asked the question on everyone’s mind: How can we attract more young workers to the union cause?
If a young worker is interested in art, ask them to design a flyer for an upcoming event, suggested National Business Agent Rachel Walthall, who co-chaired the workshop with Courtney Jenkins. “Find out what they are into, what excites them,” she said. “Find your niche,” suggested Keith Richardson, who was the union’s first representative to the AFL-CIO’s Young Worker Advisory Council.
But older, more experienced union officers don’t always encourage young people to get involved, noted Daleo Freeman, president of the Cleveland Area Local. Sometimes, he said, “They tell you to wait your turn.”
“What you need to do is get involved. That’s the only way we are going to perpetuate ourselves.”
In a panel discussion, Walthall, Freeman and Richardson – now in their 40s – shared lessons from their own triumphs and tribulations when they were young, new union activists.
There’s no denying that being a young union activist comes with growing pains. Mistakes will be made, but finding a mentor – or several – to guide you will keep you moving in the right direction, Jenkins said.
Finding the balance between asserting yourself and learning from others was a theme throughout the workshop. But all agreed: Getting more young people involved is essential to the future of the APWU.
American Postal Workers Union
Supports the Future of the Labor Movement
The text of the resolution is printed below.
Whereas, young people have been at the forefront of major movements throughout the history of this nation, and
Whereas, millennials (18-35 yrs.) make up one-third of the American workforce and are becoming the majority of the American electorate, and
Whereas, the labor movement has seen a decline in union density, and
Whereas, young people share a favorable opinion of unions and the United States Postal Service, and
Whereas, the AFL-CIO has created the Next Up Young Workers Program to encourage youth involvement in organized labor and the labor movement, and
Whereas, approximately 25,000 members of the American Postal Workers Union are between the ages of 18 and 35 years, and
Whereas, young people of this generation face economic insecurity unknown to previous generations, and
Whereas, income inequality and the wage gap has grown dramatically over recent decades, and
Whereas, young unionists face challenges in regards to leadership preparation, and
Whereas, the American Postal Workers Union recognizes through its philosophy that the entirety of its membership must be involved to continue strengthening the organization, therefore be it
Resolved, the American Postal Workers Union shall create and support a National Young Members Committee to be comprised of one young member and one alternate between the ages of 18-35 from each represented region (Eastern, Northeastern, Southern, Western, and Central) responsible with being a liaison between regional coordinators and the youth membership within its respective region. These representatives shall be recommended by each Regional Coordinator and appointed by the President, and be it further
Resolved, the Young Members Committee shall meet no less than once each year and will convene during each Biennial National Convention to give a report on the state of the youth membership of the American Postal Workers Union.