It can take months to resolve a simple grievance. At the post office where i work, we were able to quickly defend our breaks by using a direct action approach.
I’m a city carrier assistant (CCA) — part of the lower-paid second tier of letter carriers — in Naples, Florida. CCAs in the United States have a retention rate of around 20%.
Each day, letter carriers begin by sorting mail and loading it into their trucks. Monday through Saturday, we take a 10-minute break in my office before we go out to deliver mail.
We used to take our Sunday breaks together. As a sign of our camaraderie, we would each chip in for donuts or coffee.
In April, however, the Postal Service changed the way it does Sunday package runs. (On Sundays we don’t deliver letters, just parcels, mainly for Amazon.) They had half the workforce coming in first to load trucks, and the other half coming in later to start deliveries — and we were no longer allowed to take our Sunday morning break in the office.
In the middle of summer, we all went back to the old ways of loading and delivering. Everyone was back to clocking into the same time every Sunday at 8:30 a.m.
Management insisted that we take Sunday morning breaks as a group. They wanted us to get on the road and take our breaks in the heat.
“It’s Break Time”
My alarm went off on Sunday, August 21 at 9 a.m. as it does every Monday through Friday. I said what I usually say those days: “It’s break time, ladies and gentlemen.” Three other workers and I started walking towards the break room.
Our supervisor stated, loudly, in front of all of us on the loading dock, that there’s no breaks on Sundays. We just shrugged it off and went into the break room. He was standing right next to us a minute later.
He stated that we had two options. Either go home, or get back to work after our 10-minute street break.
We weren’t expecting an ultimatum. The four of us looked at one another, and we all agreed to go home. We all scanned our badges and went to our cars in shock.
When I got back from work, I wrote up a report and posted it on one the Facebook groups that caters to union letter carriers. My post received 500 likes and lots of positive feedback.
Monday morning saw our union president and postmaster have discussed the situation and began to work out a solution.
A few days later, management called us all together to explain the new memorandum. This would give us back our Sunday morning break, provided that we have loaded our trucks. It was posted near the schedule so that everyone could see it.
Twice during the week I was also called into meetings with management — once to discuss my attendance, and once to be asked a bunch of open-ended questions, such as “Was this premeditated? Were you planning all this?” I told them yes, of course I was planning to take a break. But I wasn’t issued any discipline.
The next Sunday, I brought some juice and donuts to my co-workers before they began delivering packages in the Florida heat.
My co-workers had a hard time adjusting to the fact that we were going home on Sunday. The majority are happy with the result. Now every CCA across Naples — not just in my office — gets to take a break inside on Sundays.
The day before, a brand new CCA began his career. He was busy loading his truck when he decided to return home. After years of being a bad boss in New York and having no union, he moved to Florida.
He is not bitter towards me or the others who took action. Instead, witnessing from the beginning of his career the power of a union, he’s proud to be union and excited to get active. He attended his first union meeting recently.
Perhaps this will increase the Postal Service retention rate, and help build a stronger union. I’d say that’s a victory.