A September 9, 1908 article from the Louisville Herald notes that,
"In striking contrast to the storm that characterized the Postal Supervisors' meeting [on September 8] was the harmony that
was the distinguishing feature of the Postal Clerks," who coincidentally were also holding their third national convention
in Louisville that year. Such a stormy beginning was perhaps to be expected, considering the working conditions for typical
supervisors and the considerable risk the original fifty members were taking by holding such a public event in 1908.
When supervisors began forming their own national organization, a
number of other employee groups had already been formulated. Postmasters (1898 and 1904), clerks (1906), city carriers (1889)
and railway mail clerks (1898) all had local, state and national organizations. Some supervisors had organized local organizations,
but it was the efforts of the Louisville group which resulted
in the first convention of the National Association of Supervisory Post Office Employees, NAPS' original name. The event was
held in 1908 in Louisville's Seelbach Hotel (considered one of the region's finest). Allan Leathers, president of the Louisville supervisors' group, was
responsible for much of the organizing work at the first meeting.
At the opening and business sessions welcoming speeches were made
by civic leaders, members of Congress and Louisville's postmaster. The convention featured several late night working sessions, but not all the time
was spent on business. Delegates attended a baseball game between the Nashville and Louisville post office clerks, and later, with some
of the delegates to the clerk's convention, traveled to Mammoth Cave.
The first business session of the convention was a setback for those
promoting a national organization. Although a temporary organization was approved, the report of the committee on a permanent
organization met with immediate opposition, resulting in the adjournment until the following morning. The dispute centered
as much on the procedures used to adopt the report as it did on the contents of the report, with some delegates demanding
a section-by-section debate. If that sounds like the results of more recent NAPS conventions, the concerns of the delegates
may surprise many supervisors working in today's Postal Service, where participatory management is strongly encouraged.
Dr. E.L. Powell of Louisville, speaking on the benefits of organizations,
urged the delegates never to forget the importance of individuality in an organization, which should strive to give each individual
more power. Joseph Vick, of Rochester, NY, spoke on the multiplicity of rules and regulations in the Post Office Department, which he said could never be comprehended
by the average clerk or superintendent. Rep. Swagar Sherley's address, "A Congressman's Point of View," criticized the Post
Office Department for its unbounded use of red tape, and suggested that it could be self-sustaining if properly conducted.
On September 9, 1908, the second day of the convention, the delegates
elected L.E. Palmer of Pittsburgh, PA,
as their first president, and adopted a national constitution and bylaws. The original language in the constitution expressing
the object of the association is similar to that currently in use, but the differences indicate the initial priorities of
"the objects of this association shall be cooperative with the
Post Office Department in the endeavor to secure uniform, modern and economical business methods; to raise the standard of
efficiency; to secure legislation that will increase compensation and widen the field of opportunity for employees who make
the business of the postal service their life work."
In the debate over the constitution that ensued, according to a story
in the Louisville Courier-Journal, the delegates wished it to be made known that the phrase "widen the field of opportunity"
was an endorsement of promoting managers from within the organization, that "positions up to that of postmaster general should
be filled by promotions from one position to another on a basis of fitness, energy and industry, with length of service taken
Thirty-nine more branches would be chartered in the last four months
of the association's inaugural year, a sign of growth that would follow.
Beyond internal organizational matters, the immediate concern of the
national officers and the five-member Executive Committee was the pursuit of legislation that would improve the dismal benefits
and working conditions of postal supervisors. In 1908 supervisors' salaries were only slightly more than those paid craft
employees. Workdays began at a specified time but routinely lasted more than eight hours, with most postal employees spending
well over fifty hours a week in their facility. The Sunday closing law would not be passed for another four years. Occupational
health and safety oversight by the government (federal, state or local) was virtually nonexistent. A comprehensive health
insurance program would not be passed for half a century. But it was the lack of a pension system, perhaps more than any other
issue, that drove supervisors to organize. Pursuit of such a legislative change would not be easy, however, for several reasons.
The first was the attitude of senior postal management toward employee
organizations. In a review of postal policy, Rep. Clyde Kelly wrote in 1931 notes that for many years the Department "forbade
real organization and dismissed postal employees for attempting it." As Kelly noted, in 1895 Postmaster General Wilson issued
an order prohibiting employees from visiting Washington for the purpose of influencing legislation. Any worker violating this order was dismissed.
In his 1905 report Postmaster General Cortelyou states that any organization
"to receive its sanctions in any degree must have their object improvement in the service or be of a purely fraternal or beneficial
character. With any other purpose in view they are detrimental to the service, to their members and to the public." This was
a policy aggressively enforced.
A second obstacle was a series of presidential orders, known as "gag
orders," which strictly limited the contact postal (and other federal) workers could have with their elected representatives
in Congress. The first, issued in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt, prohibited postal employees "directly or indirectly,
individually or through associations, to solicit an increase of pay or to influence or attempt to influence in their own interest,
any legislation whatever, either before Congress or its committees or in any way save through the head of the Post Office
Department." the original gag order was extended by orders issued in 1906 and 1909.
Although Congress removed the gag orders in 1912, the Department continued
to make life difficult for postal organizations. Postmaster General Burleson, who served from 1913 to 1921, expressed his
attitude in a 1917 report: "The conduct of these organizations is incompatible with the principles of civil service and good
administration of the postal service; they are fast becoming a menace to public welfare and should no longer be tolerated
Gradually such attitudes changed, and Congress began to change the
pay and benefits of all federal workers. In his report for 1921 PMG Will Hayes said he met with the heads of postal organizations
as often as possible. He addressed his attitude toward employees in terms that must have seemed quite progressive in his day:
"There is no business in the world so dependent upon the human factor
as the postal service. To treat a postal employee as a mere commodity in the labor market is not only wicked from a humanitarian
standpoint, but it is foolish and short-sighted even from the standpoint of business. A postal employee who is regarded as
a human being whose welfare is important to his fellows, high and low, in the postal organization, is found to do his work
with a courage, a zest and a thoroughness, which no money alone can buy."
Despite Hays' appreciation for the efforts of postal employees, meaningful
recognition of NAPS and the other employee organizations was decades in the making, almost always as the result of congressional
action. Supervisor's objectives have changed little over the years, however, the identity of the organization, especially
as viewed by the Post Office Department (and later the US Postal Service) has evolved gradually. Organizationally sandwiched
between postmasters and union members, supervisors have always been considered part of management, but often have fought side-by-side
with postal unions-for several years as a member of the American Federation of Labor, or AFL.
Legal standing was first significantly achieved in 1960 with the issuance
of Executive Order 10988, Employee-Management Cooperation in the Federal Service. It provided "a legal base for the rights
of federal employees and employee organizations to participate in improving personnel policies and working conditions not
specifically fixed by the Congress." In 1969 that order was succeeded by Executive Order 11491, which removed the distinction
between formal and informal organization representation and required agencies to "establish inter-management communications
consultation with its supervisors or associations of supervisors."
With the passage of the Postal Reorganization Act in 1970 the National
Association of Postal Supervisors received statutory recognition, with a clearly defined role within the management structure.
(Such status, gained through hours of congressional lobbying by postal supervisors and their spouses, remains unique in the
federal government, and the envy of many federal supervisors and managers.) Soon after passage of the PRA, however, it became
apparent that a clarification of that role was necessary. It was gained, in part through court action, in part through legislative
action.In recent years, the distinction among postal
employee groups notwithstanding, legislative success has been achieved almost exclusively through the cooperative efforts
of a coalition consisting of the entire postal work force, many of our federal counterparts, and the auxiliaries to each groupincluding
the National Auxiliary to NAPS. While NAPS may consult with the Postal Service on issues of direct concern to postal supervisors,
the future preservation of benefits that ultimately are controlled by the Congress and the White House likely will depend
on the success of the entire postal/federal community, of which NAPS will be an active part