History of NAPFE
The sequence of events which led to the creation of the National Alliance in 1913 and its subsequent growth over the ensuing years constitutes a provocative and exciting segment in the history of the labor movement in general and the black struggle for equality in particular. Hazardous working conditions, discrimination, militancy, self determination and a desire for equal employment opportunity are key elements in the dramatic story of this Union.
It begins in the late 1890's and early 1900's when the Railway Mail Service was the most important phase of the postal service outside the area of first-class post offices. Nearly every railroad which passed through or near sizable towns had a mail car. The clerk in the mail car was responsible for receiving and dispatching mail in accordance with official schemes, schedules and special instructions. A great majority of the railway mail clerks were black. The Railway Mail Service was operating with dangerous wooden cars which guaranteed casualty in train wrecks. As a result, competition for the hazardous positions was slight and blacks were more readily hired as railway clerks until the railways conversion from wooden to steel railway cars in 1913.
With the advent of steel cars, a concerted effort was made to eliminate black railway mail workers. Since the Railway Mail Association excluded blacks from its membership, black workers did not have the benefit of an industrial organization to appeal to for their defense. This was the situation facing black workers when a call went out to black railway mail clerks in August 1913 to convene in Tennessee in October for the purpose of joining forces to combat the discrimination they were encountering.
Thirteen states were represented at that first meeting on October 2, 1913 at the foot of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, Tennessee when the National Alliance of Postal Employees was founded. The major concerns of that founding meeting were: to provide a beneficiary department and an insurance department to enable black railway clerks to make suitable provisions for their families; to launch a national journal dedicated to the interests of black railway mail clerks; and to establish means to effectively present their grievances and petitions to the Post Office Department.
In 1923, the National Alliance became the first industrial Union in the United States when it opened its membership to any postal employee who desired to join.
Although the Union was organized for the immediate purpose of preventing the elimination of blacks from the railway mail service, the Alliance has kept its doors open to all eligible persons regardless of race, sex, creed or religion - a factor which distinguishes the Alliance from the practices and policies of the old line craft unions in the postal and federal service.
Despite the predictions of failure, the Alliance has grown steadily. Its growth can be attributed to the reputation it has earned in the effective representation of its members in grievance, adverse action and equal employment opportunity cases throughout its history.
It was the Alliance along with other organizations who protested the use of photographs for identification for civil service examinations as early as 1914. The Alliance recognized that photographs could be used as a racial discrimination tool and continued its protest until the elimination of this practice 26 years later.
In the mid 1940's, under the leadership of James B. Cobb the Union established an education program for the express purpose of training stewards to process cases from the initial level to the Board of Appeals and Review, if necessary. This program is still in effect today.
When, at the close of World War II, the issue of women as career employees in the postal service was faced, the Alliance without hesitation, campaigned for the rights of women to be elevated to career status and accorded all the benefits and protection that career employees enjoy.
In the late forties and the early fifties the Alliance met and survived one of its greatest tests. When the infamous loyalty purges struck the Federal service and poisoned the entire national atmosphere; the Alliance recognized it as an effort to destroy militancy in the federal employee unions and steadfastly stood by its accused members. Rather than following the path of other unions which abruptly deserted their members in the face of disloyalty charges, the Alliance assisted its members in their defense through the long and often tortuous appeals procedure. Not content with the victory of many Alliance members before the Civil Service Loyalty Review Board, the Alliance successfully brought suit in the Court of Claims on behalf of members unjustly accused and suspended. Over $40,000 in back pay to Alliance members was awarded as a result.
The Alliance takes credit for the creation of the Board of Appeals and Review since the Alliance pressured the Post Office Department for an objective and impartial body which would act as a final adjudicator of grievances and adverse action. And, the Alliance has a long tradition of making its voice heard in the halls of Congress. Alliance representatives appear before committees of both the House and Senate to express the Union's position on legislation. Operating within the limits of Hatch Act, the Alliance surpassed all federal Unions in voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts in 1964.
The Alliance survived even though it was prevented by its industrial nature from achieving a "national exclusive" in 1962 when "craft" was used as the unit criteria in the bargaining election.
The Alliance's membership eligibility requirements were broadened in 1965 to include federal employees. And, the Alliance changed its name to the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees.
The legacy of leadership of the Alliance throughout its existence is great. People such as Henry L. Mims, J. C. Branche; Alonzo Glenn, Jerry Gilliam; Ashby B. Carter and James B. Cobb have guided the National Alliance through a series of crises as it grew from 35 founders to its present size. Their contributions and the contribution of the membership has enabled the Alliance to branch out at the community and national levels as well as to affiliate with civil rights and community improvement groups in the effort to get local, state and the national government to meet the needs of all citizens.
The Alliance has preserved the lamp used by the founders in 1913 as a symbol of the Alliance's burning determination to end racial discrimination wherever it existed in the federal service. An eternal flame was ignited at the foot of Lookout Mountain in October 1973 as a constant symbol of the Alliance's permanency and heritage.
Your efforts can add a chapter in the growing history of the National Alliance.