About NALC

Labor ties

Labor ties

NALC: Part of the global labor movement

NALC and the labor movement

Throughout the late 19th century, even before we organized into a national union, letter carriers were struggling side by side with other American workers in the fight to establish an eight-hour work day.

The struggle for an eight-hour day is a landmark in letter carrier history, but it was also an intense nationwide movement, one involving an enormous number of workers in addition to letter carriers. At the time. carriers were working 10 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, so the passage of the Eight Hour Law in 1888 was a cause for celebration and a tribute to the labor movement’s maxim, “strength through” unity. In solidarity with their fellow workers and flushed with labor’s victory, letter carriers were ready to form their own national union, the National Association of Letter Carriers.

With these historical roots, NALC firmly established itself as part of the global labor movement with long-standing ties to our working brothers and sisters in America and around the world. 

NALC’s ties to organized labor

NALC’s ties to the American labor movement

NALC members share a common bond with the wider American labor movement. In recognition of that bond, NALC affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1917. When the AFL merged with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) in 1955, the AFL-CIO became our nation’s largest and most important labor institution, and remains so today. NALC’s voluntary affiliation entitles letter carriers to a voice in federation affairs. However, it does not affect NALC’s independence. NALC remains an autonomous union, accountable to members alone.

NALC proudly shares in the tasks of the AFL-CIO. Representing workers in dozens of unions, the federation fights for the united interests of all our country’s workers. Under AFL-CIO leadership, American workers have won minimum-wage legislation; protections against discrimination on the job; occupational health and safety laws; unemployment, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits; and countless additional milestones.

Through NALC’s AFL-CIO affiliation, letter carriers join millions of fellow workers in the struggle for a better life for all Americans. But dedication to the labor movement does not stop at the United States’ borders. Through the AFL-CIO, the NALC also expresses its concern and commitment to improving the condition of working brothers and sisters throughout the world.

To find out more about the federation's activities or the websites of other affiliated unions, visit the AFL-CIO website.

NALC’s leadership and affiliation with the AFL-CIO

NALC President Brian L. Renfroe is a vice president of the AFL-CIO and serves on the executive council of the labor federation.

Delegates to the NALC National Conventions elect NALC members to serve as the union’s AFL-CIO delegates. In addition to these delegates, NALC’s president and secretary-treasurer serve as delegates to the AFL-CIO convention by virtue of their office as prescribed in the NALC Constitution.

NALC’s AFL-CIO delegation:

  • Michael O’Neill, New Jersey Mgd. Br. 38
  • Anita Guzik, Los Angeles, CA Br. 24
  • Elise Foster, Chicago, IL Br. 11
  • Lloyd Doucet, New Orleans Br. 124
  • Michael Willadsen, Hartford, CT Br. 86
  • Julie Quillam, Great Falls, MT Br. 650
  • Paul Rozzi, Pittsburgh, PA Br. 84

The following is an excerpt from NALC's history, Carriers In a Common Cause, ©2015, National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO.

In the early 1900s, a major debate was taking place within the NALC: Should the NALC affiliate with the American Federation of Labor?

The debate over affiliation began at the turn of the century. When a committee appointed by NALC's 1903 national convention reported back to delegates two years later, it recommended against affiliation, fearful that the Federation's priorities might begin to take precedence over those of letter carriers. In 1914, when the question was once again raised, many carriers were worried about the strike issue. Unfamiliar with the goals and structure of the AFL, many carriers wrongly believed that the AFL leaders could order a strike, forcing them to defy the no-strike amendment of 1912. Other carriers feared affiliation with the AFL would diminish the NALC's own identity. Still others believed the NALC could take care of itself and need not affiliate with any other organization. And undoubtedly a great number of letter carriers, still bruised and nervous after more that ten years of the gag, were simply not ready for affiliation with the broader labor movement. [NB: The "gag" orders forbade all postal and federal employees, "directly or indirectly, individually or through associations," to solicit members of Congress for wage increases or to try to influence the passage of any other legislation—except through the heads of their Department. The order, an attempt to muzzle or gag organizations like the NALC, effectively deprived government workers of their Constitutional rights to speak freely and to petition the government.]

Not surprisingly, then, when a referendum vote on the question was finally tallied in August of 1914, 18,769 letter carriers voted against and 3,968 voted for affiliation.

Yet by 1917, when the issue arose again, the tone of the debate was very different. Letter carriers demonstrated more awareness of the strong connection—and the importance of the connection—between the history of letter carriers and that of the rest of the labor movement. One carrier used the pages of The Postal Record to remind NALC members of the nationwide campaign for an eight-hour day in the late 1880's:

The first 8-hour law for letter carriers was approved May 24, 1888, a year before the NALC was organized. The streets of many a mill town have run red with the blood of wage workers [so] that we [letter carriers] of today might enjoy an 8-hour day.

I believe the only real relief we can find is by affiliating with other men laboring by the sweat of their brow, men who have united for their own protection and that protection can only be secured through direct and immediate affiliation with the American Federation of Labor.

Moved by these impassioned pleas, the convention suspended its rules and, by a voice vote, the delegates directed the Secretary of the NALC to affiliate immediately with the AFL, which the union did on September 20, 1917.

When the convention's action was tested in a nationwide referendum in early 1918, 92 percent of the NALC membership voted for affiliation—in startling contrast to 83 percent against it in 1914. What accounted for this dramatic turnaround? The question can be answered in three words: Postmaster General [Albert S.] Burleson. [Burleson served from 1913 to 1921.] His anti-worker policies convinced carriers that in 1917, as in the past, they needed the protection and support of the rest of the labor movement.

Note: In 1955, the American Federation of Labor (AFL) and the Congress of Industrial Workers (CIO) merged to become the AFL-CIO. With the merger, NALC became affiliated with the new AFL-CIO and from the very beginning took a leadership role in the new federation—an unbroken role that continues today.

NALC—Part of the international labor movement through UNI

NALC's participation in the Union Network International (UNI) demonstrates the union’s solidarity with the unique concerns and problems of postal and other service sector workers elsewhere in the world. Commitment to these worldwide activities exemplifies NALC’s continual concern with improving the working life and conditions of all brother and sister workers.

UNI is the global union for skills and services with 1,000 affiliates and 15 million members. To find out more about UNI’s activities or websites of international affiliates, visit the Union Network International website.

Origins of UNI

—adapted & expanded from THIS IS (Our International Trade Union Organization) PTTI, n.d.

Union Network International (UNI) is the global union for skills and services with 1,000 affiliates and 15.5 million members.

UNI's forerunner, the Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International (PTTI) was started in the early 1900s as an International Trade Union Organization inspired by the basic principles of international, free and democratic trade unionism.

Its origins can be traced back to June 1910 when in France, a group of European trade unions issued a call to create an international organization of Postal and Telecommunications workers. At this time, there was a strong feeling that the postal and telecommunications unions in Europe should work together for their common purposes. A year later, in June 1911, the Statutes that would govern the new International were approved at the Conference of Paris, France, and its headquarters was established in Berne, Switzerland.

A short time after PTTI's establishment, the first World War (1914-1918) broke out and, as a result, all its activities were paralyzed until around 1920 when it renewed its work with more strength, although still only within the European sphere.

While the PTTI was able to establish the first contacts with communications trade unions from other continents, the second World War (1939-1945) again brought bloodshed to Europe and interrupted the growth of the PTTI.

The period between wars marked a slowdown in labor activities. Totalitarian doctrines which were developing were hostile toward the free and democratic trade union movement. It was not until the year 1951 that, through the actions of the communications trade union organizations of several European countries, the PTTI became consolidated.

In the mid 1950s, there was a move to expand the activities of the PTTI. NALC affiliated with the PTTO in January of 1950. By 1955, when the XV World Congress held in Weisbaden, Germany, ratified the affiliation of the first trade union organizations from the American, Asian and African continents, Postal, Telegraph and Telephone International took on a worldwide character. At the next Congress held in Florence, Italy, General Secretary, Fritz Gmur, reported that unions in thirty-five countries with close to two million members were then part of the PTTI.

By the later half of the twentieth century, the Trade Secretariat had affiliated organizations in virtually every country of the world where workers had the freedom and the right to organize in trade unions. It had a total of 4 million members in 100 countries from every continent. In the Western Hemisphere, the Light and Power organizations also joined the PTTI.

In 1997 at the PTTI's World Congress in Montreal, delegates voted to change the name of the PTTI to the Communications International in preparation for a merger with three other International Trade Secretariats, the International Graphical Federation, the Media and Entertainment International and FIET, the banking and commercial workers union. The merger, which created Union Network International in January 2000, both anticipated and reflected trends (i.e., globalization and technological convergence) that are revolutionizing the service sectors represented by the four international organizations.

UNI links 15.5 million service sector workers in more than 1,000 unions around the world. It serves the interests of letter carriers in international organizations such as the Universal Postal Union, the United Nations agency that regulates international mail transport and delivery, the World Trade Organization and the NAFTA/FTAA secretariats.

NALC—Part of a nationwide labor network

While NALC members share a common bond with the wider American labor movement, they share a particular bond with their U.S. Postal Service co-workers who are members of sister USPS unions. They also share common workplace interests with their fellow workers in the American communications network and delivery industry.

You can find out more about issues concerning America's working people at the AFL-CIO website. To learn more about postal and communications industry workers:

Visit websites of NALC's sister U.S. postal, communications and related unions