Philip F. Rubio, postal worker-turned-history scholar and author of There’s Always Work at the Post Office: African American Postal Workers and the Fight for Jobs, Justice, and Equality, has recently lent his expertise on race issues in government employment and especially the postal service in two very different but equally fascinating news outlets. In a recent Huffington Post feature, “Black Unemployment Crisis: Loss of Government Jobs Hurts African Americans Hardest,” Rubio is quoted to tie in contemporary issues affecting African American government workers to the struggles they have faced over the past century:
The loss of government paychecks erodes one of the great equalizing forces at play in the American economy for more than a century. A government job has long offered a pathway for African Americans to sidestep discrimination that has impeded progress in the private sector, where social networks often determine who has a shot at the best jobs, say experts.
The 1987 film Hollywood Shuffle embodies the crucial importance of government work for black families. In one scene, a struggling black actor is reminded by his grandmother that he can always get work at the post office.
“Something similar but maybe less pronounced can be said about a lot of government agencies,” said Philip Rubio, a labor historian at the University of North Carolina A&T State University, who took that movie scene as the title for an academic book on the subject, “There’s Always Work at the Post Office.”
African Americans first gained employment in the postal service in the 1860s, in the wake of the Civil War. Two decades later, the post office began hiring through the civil service exam, creating equal access to jobs and equal pay regardless of race or gender. And civil service protections allowed postal workers to get involved in controversial issues such as the earliest stages of the Civil Rights Movement without risking their jobs.
Read the rest of the HuffPo article. The Huffington Post Business section also provides broad coverage of current unemployment trends and stories.
Rubio is also featured in the most recent issue of The Postal Record, the monthly magazine of the National Association of Letter Carriers, which is the labor union for non-rural USPS workers. In “Same Work, Different Unions: Carriers Contend with Legacy of Segregation,” Rubio tells his story as a postal worker in Durham:
Reflecting the racial progress that followed years of struggle, Rubio’s last decade as a carrier was in Durham, where he belonged to Branch 382, with part of that time spent under the branch’s first African-American president—Jimmy Mainor.
The pace of racial progress quickened after the action of the 1960 convention. In April 1961, the NALC’s executive council issued a directive against dual charters, spurred by the union’s understanding that its health benefits plan might be ended “if it didn’t force these die-hard cities to integrate and end dual charters,” Rubio says.
Here is the link to the PDF of the article (Postal Record PDF), where Rubio continues and other postal workers from Durham and Baltimore reflect on issues of segregation and discrimination in service recognition and boundaries between different unions because of race.