Black Americans Worry Postal Changes Could Disrupt History Of Secure JobsHistorians in the News
tags: African American history, Postal Service, Mail, USPS, labor
Postmaster General Louis DeJoy's cost-cutting measures have raised concerns about mail-in voting. But critics worry they may also set the stage for privatizing the U.S. Postal Service, something the Trump administration called for in a 2018 plan to reorganize the federal government.
Unions say that could disrupt an important role the Postal Service has played in providing generations of African Americans secure middle class employment.
Retired Philadelphia mail handler Garry Simmons says his 32-year career with the agency provided a good life for his family.
"I was able to raise them, help pay for my son's college education, provide a good middle-class lifestyle for us," says Simmons, who retired before turning 60 in 2017.
The postal service has long given African American workers a place to avoid some of the discrimination that exists in the broader employment world. That started just after the Civil War when Congress passed a law that ended the whites-only hiring practice for postal jobs.
"African Americans, starting with Union Army veterans, abolitionists and others, began finding their way into this government job," says Phil Rubio, a history professor at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University who's also written several books on African American workers and the Postal Service.
Rubio says the pay wasn't always good, but the job came with some prestige and it offered security, benefits, and civil service protections that improved over the decades.
Today, African Americans make up 27 percent of the Postal Service, about twice their share of the overall workforce.
Among those who say they benefited from postal careers is actor Danny Glover. In a 2015 video Glover says his parents, a sister and a brother all worked for the Postal Service, and he worked there as a teenager during Christmas breaks.
"Working for the Postal Service enabled my parents to buy their first home," he says in the video.