Philip Rubio: Austerity Saturdays from the Postal Service

Roundup: Historians' Take
tags: Mail, USPS, Philip Rubio

Philip Rubio is an assistant professor of history at North Carolina A&T State University, and author of There's Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality (2010, University of North Carolina Press).

It’s Saturday February 9th as I write this. Every postal worker knows by heart their first official day of work as their “anniversary date.” Not for sentimental reasons, but for purposes of seniority, retirement, and all the benefits thereof. It’s an important date. 

I retired early from the post office in Durham, North Carolina after 20 years to go to graduate school (30 years is standard retirement at the US Postal Service). But even though it’s been almost 13 years since I last punched off the clock, I still remember my anniversary date: February 9, 1980. Making $8.10 an hour to start: up from $2.95 an hour a decade, the result of over 200,000 postal workers staging an eight-day nationwide wildcat strike beginning March 18, 1970–the largest wildcat in U.S. history, leading to the 1971 transformation into the US Postal Service as a self-supporting independent government agency.

February 9, 1980 began a week of paid, on-the-job training for me in Denver, Colorado. Postal management impressed upon us the imperative of maintaining the “sanctity of the mail.” That same week union representatives urged us to join whatever union went with our craft. The vast majority of postal workers are unionized....

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