Having sworn ‘again’ to refrain from writing about internal union matters, I will turn to other subjects that I trust are of interest to postal employees – their job and changed conditions. We often take for granted the work rules that existed over our careers with little appreciation of how we got from there to here. We assumed that the many rights and privileges that we enjoy were always conditions of employment giving little thought to when and how. Certainly, contract negotiations are memorable and we recall the COLA struggle in 1978 and the steady salary adjustments; the upgrades in 2006; repeated wage increases - averaging a little more than one percent year; the elimination of PTFs in large offices; air conditioning for vehicles and other high profile issues that were negotiated or arbitrated over the 40 year span of collective bargaining. However, numerous other changes that occurred over our careers have been relegated to obscurity. In my book “My Journey” which is in the final months of production, I record selected changes that occurred on my watch but many visitors to the web site will not be readers of this record of my life so this forum will serve as a window into the past.
The 2010 contract negotiations nullified many of the positive changes achieved over time and it can be expected that the road back will be even more difficult than the struggles engaged in to date, but our history includes scores of positive changes which were made one at a time. Upon assuming national office in 1981, the die had been cast by my predecessors; that representation consisted of contract negotiations and vigorous contract enforcement. These are the sworn obligations of elected officials, but I was determined to expand the opportunities to change postal employment. In early 1981, I was baptized with an opportunity to impact a fundamental feature of any employment, the selection of attire when performing postal activities. In the 70s, the youth had rebelled and American society was in the throes of significant change, particularly the choice and manner of dress. From the early days of postal employment, the appearance was almost formal with the men who dominated the workforce choosing attire that resembled office workers instead of the factory floor. It was not unusual to see white shirts and ties sprinkled among the workers who emptied sacks and distributed mail. The selection of footwear was traditional with leather uppers, hard soles and heals but the young recruits of the early 80s who dominated the newly created LSMs elected instead to wear tennis shoes and t-shirts. Old school supervisors disapproved of the casual look and it was routine for a PTF to be ordered to return home and change into ‘proper’ attire. Tradition was holding true to form and the new employees were expected to conform.
Bill Bolger, who was the Postmaster General (PMG) when I assumed national office visited a local facility and was surprised to see the evolution of dress that had occurred over time. Upon his return to Washington, he issued instructions that tennis shoes, t-shirts and radio headsets were not permitted on the work floor. Safety was cited as justification for the resistance for change and the rolling equipment used to move mail in the facilities was cited as posing exposure to injuries, if standards were relaxed. During my early employment as a PTF, I was assigned to tie out sacks of mail, a mail handler’s function and my choice of dress was fashionable sweaters and dress slacks which would have been appropriate for a date. When Bolger visited the facility this was the manner of dress that he anticipated, but instead observed employees dressed casually in jeans and t-shirts. Obviously, the casual dress did not meet his expectations so upon his return to headquarters he issued instructions to enforce the expected attire. Upon issuance of the changed policy, I requested a meeting with the PMG because I was new to the Washington scene and did not know that protocol dictated that labor issues did not rise to the level of the PMG.
Bolger granted my request for a meeting and I came prepared to present a typical grievance presentation, with citations of decisions and wording included in relative handbooks and manuals. When I sensed that this line of attack was falling on deaf ears, I shifted the discussions to one of generational change. Mr. Bolger was of my father’s generation and had risen from the ranks of postal employment so he was intimately familiar with the unofficial dress code so his natural inclination was resistance to change. But I pressed on and finally convinced him that the world was changing. The protests over the Viet Nam war and civil rights campaigns had unleashed a rebellious spirit in the next generation and the American culture was under attack. The wearing of tennis shoes and t-shirts were merely an extension of changed values and identity. Evidently, I must have struck a chord because after almost an hour of persistence, Bolger consented and referred me to his Vice President of Labor Relations, Jim Gildea for the writing of changes and incorporate relaxed attire into postal policy.
The discussions that followed with Gildea were anti-climactic, but in short order we were successful in drafting policy changes that incorporated the wearing of tennis shoes and t-shirts. Sporadic disagreements would continue at the local level and union officers would struggle with the general acceptance of changed attire, nevertheless we had succeeded. So as postal employees throughout the country prepare for their work day and begin the selection of the uniform of the day, think back to the beginning in 1981 when options were first provided.