Imagine picking a fight with the United States government and emerging victorious. Postal workers stepped into the ring and scored a knockout. The Great Postal Strike of 1970 showed when people unite in a common cause, anything is possible! In March of 1970, postal workers illegally decided to strike against the United States Postal Service because they were not allowed to engage in a democratic process called collective bargaining. Postal workers were fed up with low wages, poor benefits, and horrendous working conditions and decided to unite in this common cause and showed there is strength in numbers.
The postal workers were poorly paid, and they did not enjoy the freedom of bargaining over the wages. The employees were not allowed to carry out the strike. The wages paid were very low, so they were struggling to survive. The average wage paid to the employees in 1970 was $ 6,176, and the pay rise was small since for twenty-one years the wages had risen to $8,442 (Blakemore). The workers in the city experienced more hardship because the cost of living is high in the cities as compared to the rural areas. In those years, the postal employees qualified for food stamps, which is an indicator that their income was below a certain figure. The employees were therefore not well paid, and their lives were filled with financial constraints, yet they were expected not to strike or ask for an increase in the wages.
The pay rise should reflect the rate of inflation else the employees will continue struggling financially even after the pay is increased. Congress had debated about increasing the wages of the postal workers for several years, but they had failed to implement the ideas (Walsh, and Garth). In 1970, the Senate committee was formed to look into the issue, and they reported a bill that would be beneficial to the workers as their wages would be increased by 5.4 percent. This increase was, however, less than the rate of inflation and to make matters worse; the postal workers were informed that the bill could not be acted on for at least three weeks. The staff anger of not being paid well was accelerated by the congress bill that they had passed that led to an increase in their salary by 41 percent. The post office staff felt that they were discriminated and that the Congress was unfair and selfish as they are reviewing their salaries, yet they could not work on the bill concerning the wages of post office employees. The proposed increment was 5.4 percent, which was extremely low compared to the 41 percent increment for the Congress. More than 200,0000 postal staff were involved in the strike that was reported as the greatest against the Federal government (Blakemore).
Richard Nixon was the president at that time, and he promised to punish the striking staff as he thought their responsibilities could easily be carried out by the Armed Forces (Blakemore). Approximately 23,000 officers were involved in the processing of the mail in the New York City, but they could not carry the duties effectively because they were not well versed in the career and they did not receive any form of training. The Armed Officers could therefore not perform the duties bestowed to them by the president, so a lot of bags mails remained undelivered (Gall).
The postal workers, just like any other employees, were entitled to reasonable wages, and the union workers had not done anything wrong by advocating and championing the strike. Since the courts offered injunctions that favored the union and the postal workers, the Post Office Department realized that they could not get rid of the striking staff because if they did so they no mail would be processed or delivered. The striking workers succeeded as an agreement was reached to increase the wages by 8 percent (Blakemore). The government lost credibility, and the workers joined a union referred to as American Postal Workers that could aid in collective bargaining in the future.
Apart from the low wages and lack of benefits, the postal employees also complained about their working condition. The environment that employees work in determines their productivity. If the conditions are unconducive, the employees are demotivated, and they will be willing to own the tools once provoked. A conducive work environment comprises of both physical components as well as nonphysical such as a good relationship between the employees and the managers.
Employees have the legal right to engage in legal and peaceful industrial strikes whenever they feel that there are certain aspects need to be addressed to make their work more comfortable and efficient to complete their tasks (Walsh, and Garth). The postal employees cornered the state because their industrial strike was legal and addressed real concerns that were affecting the employees at the time. This made it difficult for the state to have the support of the judiciary, which was the only institution that could have stopped the strike. The state only relies on the law and intimidation measures to stop strikes. The unity of the employees helped them in fighting threats and intimidations.
Certain factors motivate employees in any industry that makes the employees go an extra mile in demanding for the increase of their wages. One of the factors that make the employees' demand wages include the poor working conditions at their workplace (Walsh, and Garth). The employees feel uncomfortable working in areas where they are not comfortable with because of the environment. The employees of the postal company compared their working conditions with other departments that have a better working environment and realized that they needed to demand an improvement of the working conditions and environment to meet the standards required for a healthy and motivating environment. The working conditions also entails having the right equipment's required to do their work.
The employees were also concerned about the benefits that are given by the state; they wanted reforms that would enable them to get more benefits from the employer (Franklin). Employees are entitled to benefits such as house and commuter allowance that enable the employees to be able to live and arrive at the work station in good time. The benefits need to be reviewed periodically because the cost of living keeps occurring from time to time. The employees of the postal company felt that they were discriminated because their benefits were not paid like that of other state officers.
Fig. Source/ https://www.uspsoig.gov/blog/postal-strike-1970
One of the key factors that enabled the postal workers to be successful in their strike was because of their unity. All the employees were committed to remaining in the strike as long as the state would not listen to their grievances and address the grievances that they wanted to be addressed such as the low wages (Walsh, and Garth). The unity of the employees was a huge strength to the workers because governments usually divide the employees by ensuring that some employees go back to work while others are on strike to make the ones on strike feel vulnerable of losing their employment because they are engaging in an illegal strike that not all employees are participating in. The result is the end of the strike because the striking employees fear to lose their jobs. The picture above shows the solidarity of among all the employees who participated in the strike.
The federal government was not expecting the strike to be successful as it was; therefore, it was not prepared so much in terms of resources when it comes to allocating resources that it could use to pay the new wages that the employees demanded (Franklin). The state was involved in serious bargaining with the unions representing the postal employees to reduce the demands of the employees because the state lacked the resources needed by the employees. The negotiations were not successful in making the strike to last longer.
Fig. Source/ https://www.uspsoig.gov/blog/postal-strike-1970
All the employees were facing similar challenges because the low wages and poor working conditions were similar among all the employees. The state wanted the strike to end for the postal address to resume its operations and reduce the losses that the state was incurring from the postal company (Walsh, and Garth). The company was among the most profitable companies that were bringing income to the government. The people were also suffering because they could no longer send and receive their parcels to different corners of the country. The state lost money in the form of revenue that it could have gained from the operations of the postal company to the extent that it declared a state of emergency because of the strike. The challenge was that the workers had to be paid even at a time when they were on strike and not worked. This led to the company incurring huge losses.
In order to end the strike, collective bargaining has to be done successfully for the strike to end. The collective bargaining entails involving all the stakeholders from all the conflicting parties and making them agree on how to solve the conflicts among them (Walsh, and Garth). The parties must be willing to lose the negotiations for a solution to be reached. The challenges of the negotiation include the state not willing to meet the grievances of the employees. The employees also need to understand that all their demands cannot be met at once. The negotiations lead to the formation of an agreement on how to implement the decisions made.
In conclusion, going against a Federal government but the postal employees were brave enough to take the risk. The government had been undermining them, but during the strike, they realized that they were very important and not even the army could replace them. The strike was helpful as the employees' wages were raised by 8 percent, and they formed a union that could help them in collective bargaining. The employees also did not suffer any consequences as a result of the strike so striking was worth it. Apart from the increment in the ways, the working benefits and conditions also improved.
Blakemore, Erin. "How A Postal Strike Became a National Emergency for Richard Nixon." HISTORY, 2017, https://www.history.com/news/how-a-postal-strike-became-a-national-emergency-for-richard-nixon. Accessed 13 July 2019.
Franklin, Matthew. Collective Bickering: The 1970 Postal Strike and Labor's Decline. California State University, Fullerton, 2018.
Gall, Gregor. The meaning of militancy: Postal workers and industrial relations. Routledge, 2017.
Walsh, John, and Garth L. Mangum. Labor Struggle in the Post Office: From Selective Lobbying to Collective Bargaining: From Selective Lobbying to Collective Bargaining. Routledge, 2016.
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