African Americans Make Up 27% Of Postal Service, Worry Changes Will Disrupt Secure Jobs

African Americans Make Up 27% Of Postal Service, Worry Changes Will Disrupt Secure Jobs

African Americans make up 27 percent of U.S. Postal Service workers. They worry that impending changes will disrupt their secure jobs. Photo: Wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, postal worker Samantha Wims demonstrates during a “National Day of Action to Save the ‘Peoples’ Post Office!” outside the Flagler Station post office in Miami, Aug. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

In 1802, only a “free white person” could work at the U.S. Postal Service as enacted by Congress. Today, the USPS is quite different. Black Americans make up 27 percent of the workforce — about twice the share of the overall workforce. 

Postal workers are worried their jobs might be threatened if the agency moves forward with cost-cutting measures or goes the privatization route — something Trump has been calling for.

For decades, having a job at the post office was considered a “good” job in the Black community. Such a job afforded many Black people entry into a middle-class lifestyle and homeownership.

Unions are pushing back on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s budget reductions. They say it could disrupt an important role the Postal Service has played in providing generations of African Americans with secure middle-class employment.

“The postal service has long given African American workers a place to avoid some of the discrimination that exists in the broader employment world,” NPR reported.

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The 1802 rule against hiring Black workers was enacted after Gideon Granger, Jr., the fourth U.S. postmaster general, sent a letter to Congress warning that hiring Black people could result in an uprising. 

“We cannot be too cautious,” Granger’s letter said. “Plans and conspiracies have already been concerted by (slaves) more than once, to rise in arms, and subjugate their masters … The most active and intelligent (slaves) are employed as post riders … By traveling from day to day, and hourly mixing with people … they will acquire information. They will learn that a man’s rights do not depend on his color. They will, in time, become teachers to their brethren … One able man among them, perceiving the value of this machine, might lay a plan which would be communicated by your post riders from town to town and produce a general and united operation against you.”

After the Civil War, Congress passed a law that ended the whites-only hiring practice for postal workers.

“African Americans, starting with Union Army veterans, abolitionists and others, began finding their way into this government job,” Phil Rubio, a history professor at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, told NPR. Rubio has written several books on African-American workers and the Postal Service.

Vice President Teddy Roosevelt’s “square deal” initiative set a policy of fairness in federal hiring in 1902, exactly 100 years after Granger sent his letter to Congress, according to official U.S. Postal Service history.

“Sixty years later, the U.S. Post Office was the largest single employer of African Americans in the country, though the vast majority of Black employees held lower-level positions,” the Connecticut Post reported. “By the end of the 20th century, African Americans made up about 21 percent of the postal workforce, filling about 14 percent of top postal management positions.”

Actor Danny Glover has said publicly that his family benefited from postal service careers and he has been an advocate for postal workers. In a 2015 video, Glover said his parents, a sister and brother all worked for USPS, and that he himself worked there as a teenager during Christmas breaks.

“Working for the Postal Service enabled my parents to buy their first home,” Glover said in the video.

In 2018, he wrote an opinion piece opposing Trump’s efforts to privatize the agency, saying that it would negatively affect African Americans especially hard.

Chris Edwards, an economist with the libertarian think tank CATO Institute, claims it’s time to privatize the service.

“The postal industry is no longer any kind of natural monopoly. And when you don’t have natural monopoly I think we ought to let entrepreneurs come into this industry and show us how they can improve it,” Edwards told NPR.

Privatization would most likely result in pay cuts. In 2019, the median postal service employee salary was $96,105, according to an SEC filing. Compare this to the median FedEx salary of $49,059 and the median UPS salary of $74,395.

This doesn’t sit well with the unions. “The Postal Service is not a business. It’s a service. It’s a service to the American people,” said Judy Beard, legislative and political director of the American Postal Workers Union.

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DeJoy recently said reduction plans have been put on hold until after the election, but the future doesn’t seem bright, many Back workers fear. 

Not only has the post office “been vital to Black community development, but Black postal worker activism changed the Post Office and its unions,” history Prof. Rubio wrote in his book, “There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality.”

“This is a dynamic history, one that involves narratives of migration, militancy, community, and negotiation — and all at a workplace that African Americans saw as being inclusively, not exclusively, theirs,” NBC News reported.