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Momentum For Open Bargaining Grows For The Letter Carriers

Above photo: Letter carriers in Minneapolis organized their own contract rally last spring.

Hit by years of inflation, and inspired by last year’s contract struggles and big wins by Big 3 auto workers and UPS Teamsters, members of the Letter Carriers (NALC) at the U.S. Postal Service are getting organized to fight for open bargaining.

So far 23 NALC branches and one NALC state association have passed an open bargaining resolution first put forward by NALC Branch 9 in Minneapolis. In many more branches, members are discussing the resolution and plan to bring it forward in the weeks to come.

The resolution calls for NALC leaders to articulate clear demands up front, and to give regular updates about the progress of bargaining. Currently members are kept completely in the dark.

It also calls for the NALC to mobilize the membership through nationally coordinated rallies, like the contract rally held by Branch 9 in Minneapolis last spring, that would bring together the membership, the broader labor movement, and the public in support.

Underpaid And Angry

Letter carriers are angry, and like workers everywhere, are dealing with a cost-of-living crisis. Starting pay is $19.33 an hour for new hires, classified as City Carrier Assistants (CCAs), who do not receive the benefits of career employees for up to two years.

This two-tier pay scale was part of a contract imposed by an arbitrator after the 2008 recession; though union leaders had backed the idea, members never got a vote. For workers hired after 2013, the starting salary is $16,000 less than the pre-2013 pay scale.

While the top pay is the same, it takes more than 14 years to reach it. In fact, it takes more than eight years just to reach the starting pay of the pre-2013 pay scale.

CCAs can also be forced to work overtime any day they are scheduled, forcing them to live in limbo, never knowing their scheduled hours for any given day until the morning of.

Pay is the biggest problem. But in many cities, another acute issue is short staffing, driven by mandatory overtime, the low starting pay, and hostile work environments at some stations.

Binding Arbitration Again?

Contract negotiations began in February 2023, and the contract has been expired since last May. Throughout the process NALC leaders have given members sparse updates, usually only pertaining to the process, with no specifics about whether we’ve made any headway—or even what the union has proposed—on higher wages, the two-tier payscale, or other issues.

Arbitrators have been selected, and it appears that the contract is heading to “Binding Interest Arbitration,” which would mean that an arbitrator would decide everything. Letter carriers would get no vote on our own contract.

It’s likely too late for the open bargaining resolution to force a change of course for this contract. But after seeing other unions fight and win historic contracts in 2023, we want to follow suit for the next one.

It’s clear the old approach doesn’t work. Open bargaining would mean we put up a fight—and not allow negotiations to get dragged out for more than a year while members are suffering under the impact of inflation.

A New Approach

We’re in a new era for the labor movement. Letter carriers are ready for a new approach to negotiations, and ready to fight for a better deal than we’ve gotten the past few contract cycles.

A serious discussion has begun in the union about how to best build power and put maximum pressure on the bosses. Our power does not just come from having the best lawyers or contract negotiation team, but from the 200,000 active letter carriers who make USPS run.

The NALC negotiation team would be in a significantly better bargaining position if we put forward clear demands and if they had an active, confident, and mobilized membership standing behind them.

Members are getting organized through monthly “Build a Fighting NALC” Zoom meetings, organized by rank and filers. The first meeting on January 28 had 104 people in attendance, and the second on March 10 had 150, including stewards, branch presidents, and members from across the country and every layer of the union.

Members have gotten together to discuss the open bargaining resolution and how to pass it in their local branches, how to fight back against Postmaster General Louis Dejoy’s plans for postal consolidation, and the need to get organized for the union’s national convention this August.

NALC members and supporters can register here to join the next “Build a Fighting NALC” Zoom meeting on Sunday, April 14 at noon Central Time (10 a.m. Pacific, 1 p.m. Eastern) on the topic “What Does a Fighting Union Look Like?” Feel free to share the link with all NALC members who are interested in building the movement for open bargaining.

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