Letter Carriers’ Rolando spells out Amazon threat to postal workers
The Letter Carriers have to contend with Amazon trying to claw its way into their business, reducing the number of union jobs. Amazon truck drivers and delivery people are non-union and lower paid than Postal Service employees. Rolando sees unionizing them as important as unionizing Amazon's warehouse workers. | Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

CHICAGO – Organizing Amazon against its ever-expanding reach and the radical right extremist threat to democracy are two main challenges confronting Letter Carriers and all unions in coming years, union President Fredric Rolando said at his union’s convention here this week. The other challenge facing the Letter Carriers, of course, is negotiating a new contract with the United States Postal Service.

Amazon’s ever-expanding reach and the radical right extremist threat to democracy are two main challenges confronting Letter Carriers in coming years, union President Fredric Rolando says. The other is negotiating a new contract, one of the largest in the country.

Rolando laid out those goals, among others, in his keynote address to the Letter Carriers convention, meeting in Chicago this week. It opened on August 8.

The union movement is uniting to organize Amazon, while giving Americans the right to organize “is not that much different” from giving people civil rights by “securing their right to vote,” he added.

Rolando said Amazon not only competes with Letter Carriers and other postal worker groups by grabbing at the Postal Service’s lucrative package business, but it’s set up a network of “independent contractors,” small trucking firms, whose drivers are not covered by labor law, to deliver its packages the proverbial “last mile.”

Until now, Amazon relied on the USPS for “last mile” work. The coverage is unprofitable and federal law mandates USPS provide it. NALC members do so.

But while public attention focuses on organizing drives among Amazon warehouse workers—including the successful drive by the independent grass-roots Amazon Labor Union at the big warehouse firm’s JFK8 facility on Staten Island, N.Y—a key to unionizing the monster retailer may well be its drivers.

“We support the unionization of Amazon workers, both to help these suffering workers and of course to curb Amazon’s market power,” Rolando said.

Organizing those last mile drivers may be more important, especially to NALC, and more difficult, Rolando warned. So at least 12 unions have put their heads together, along with the AFL-CIO, to figure out how to organize the drivers. And they’re enlisting international support, too, he said.

“Rather than employing delivery drivers directly, Amazon contracts with a handful of delivery companies” at each warehouse, Rolando said.

“These small companies, delivery service providers (DSPs), then hire drivers themselves. So a union would need to organize anywhere between five to 15 DSPs at each facility—hiding these efforts from Amazon, which can and will just cancel contracts with DSPs with little warning.”

Rolando said international labor partners will help NALC craft “success­ful strategies to engage the company going forward.”

The Amazon organizing drive is important to workers nationwide, regardless of whether it’s at warehouses or among drivers—and the Teamsters plan an organizing drive among both the monster retailer’s regular drivers and its warehouse workers.

Amazon has struck back at that, at least in Southern California, with a public relations drive designed to shine up its image and cover up its low pay and exploitation of workers, along aiming to recruit “vulnerable people” for warehouse work, from high school and community college grads from poor families and recently released prisoners (see story in last week’s edition).

Amazon seeks anti-union advocates

Those two groups need jobs so much, Amazon assumes, they’d willingly grab its warehouse work—and become anti-union advocates.

As far as battling the right-wing’s threat to democracy goes, the mid-term elections will hold the key to stopping the rightists, Rolando said.

“Giving Americans their rights on the job by securing their right to organize unions is not that much different from giving Americans their civil rights by securing their right to vote,” he led off that segment of his speech.

Rolando didn’t have to identify the promoters of the threat. Congressional hearings, indictments, and—just after the convention opened—an FBI search warrant for illegally taken top secret documents at former Oval Office occupant Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago estate did it for him.

“Letter Carriers have always known how essential we are to the political, social and eco­nomic well-being of our coun­try—long before Covid-19 struck,” Rolando said, using the virus’s official name. “But now the rest of the country has taken notice, too.”

While Rolando did not spell it out, the Letter Carriers, who have always been politically active, face a particularly crucial test in the election.

“Our victories were made possible by the incredible solidarity, unity and strength of the NALC membership—and by the work of thousands of activists at all levels of our union,” Rolando said to huge applause. “We should all take pride in this progress. But Letter Carriers can­not rest on their laurels.”

That’s because of “the crisis of democracy,” shown particularly by the Jan. 6, 2021 Trumpite invasion, insurrection and attempted unconstitutional coup d’état at the U.S. Capitol. Rolando devoted much of his speech to that topic, and the segment is available on YouTube via the NALC’s website’s convention coverage.

“The will of the powerful few is diminishing the power of the many,” he said. Rolando then linked the filibuster’s stranglehold on the Senate with the Supreme Court’s decisions removing limits on political spending and gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The end of voting rights safeguards is particularly important to Letter Carriers, Postal Workers and other unionists at the USPS. A large share of those unionists are workers of color, women, or both. Voter repression laws target those groups and more.

“The assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and the continued belief by 40% of Americans that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, despite all evidence to the contrary, is now fueling a wave of voter suppression efforts in many states,” Rolando said. “This comes despite the 2020 election’s successes with voter turnout soaring to the highest level in more than 100 years, thanks largely to vote-by-mail.”

Filibuster blocks progress

And the filibuster prevents progressive legislation, including labor’s #1 priority, the Protect The Right To Organize (PRO) Act from even being debated on the Senate floor. The Democratic-run House has passed it twice. Congress is in danger of falling under the control of anti-worker interests in this fall’s balloting.

“Very powerful economic interests are both making it harder for working-class people to vote and drowning out their voices in the media,” said Rolando. Those economic interests back workers’ foes, principally Republicans, shown by unlimited campaign contributions and “dark money” in politics.

The right-wing U.S. Supreme Court majority legalized those practices, though Rolando did not have to say so.

Despite right-wing scare tactics and fraud claims, voting by mail soared by 25%, Rolando said, to almost half of all ballots cast, due to pandemic-induced changes limiting face-to-face contact in a wide range of situations—including polling booths and post offices.

Letter Carriers convinced customers that claims voting by mail would lead to fraud were lies. Rolando politely did not name the chief liar, Donald Trump, an avowed enemy who aimed to privatize, and de-unionize, the Postal Service.

NALC members “helped calm public fear about vote-by-mail as letter carriers delivered nearly all of the 2020 ballots on time,” Rolando reported.

“The legacy of the 2020 elections should be the remarkable everyday heroism of postal workers who made this surge in mail-in voting possible, not the attack on the Capitol,” Rolando said. He wants delegates to go home and lobby friends, family, colleagues and anyone else they can think of “to vote for democracy” this fall.

Rolando also devoted a segment of his speech to controversial Trump-named Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Republican big giver whose ouster has been the demand of more than a million signers of public petitions, Rolando had a mixed report.

Rolando praised DeJoy’s commitment to six-day delivery, a commitment now enshrined in the same law NALC and other postal unions helped craft which also removed the onerous $5.5 billion in yearly red ink charged to USPS for pre-paying future retirees’ health care costs. The Democratic-run Congress, with, for once, bipartisan backing, enacted that measure, working with NALC and other unions.

But DeJoy also slowed down service standards, so a first-class letter from Chicago which was only supposed to take overnight to reach Milwaukee, 90 miles away, can now take three days, for example. A letter from Chicago to St. Paul, Minn., went from a three-day standard to a five-day standard. The slowdowns don’t help, Rolando said.

“Our union must be involved up front as partners in this transformation—not just be informed and tolerated. Not con­sulted after key decisions are made,” Ro­lando said. “If Letter Carriers are not at the table, It will not work.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.