Virginia Rural Letter Carriers' Association 1904-1986
The following story is from a 3-part newspaper account which was published in the VA RLCA newspaper in 1986, then reprinted in 1992.The author is Bill Greenwood, Virginia's Historian at the time and past State President.
The May 3 (1986) issue of the National Rural Letter Carrier inspired me to write this article as the lead story there was "Rural Delivery Makes History." This was announcing the Smithsonian Exhibition on Reaching Rural America, The Story of Rural Free Delivery which opened April 11 in the National Museum. The photographs published by our magazine are an excellent way to educate and familiarize the general public about the beginning of Rural Free Delivery. However, my objection is different, as my attempt here is not to educate but to call our present rural carriers' attention to where our association came from and some of the many accomplishments that have been made to improve working conditions and benefits that have affected the entire rural carrier family from its beginning up to the present time.
To coin a phrase of Virginia Slims, "You've come a long way, baby" says a lot. The beginning in 1903 of the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association certainly is ancient history to many of our present carriers. Yet to see the roots of this association should make all of us aware of and appreciate our heritage more. The Virginia Rural Letter Carriers organized in 1904 one year later with a membership of 100. The following year membership dropped to 17; however, by 1928, it had grown to 1039. The year 1904, the salary had climbed to a new high of $720 per annum. In 1921 the slogan, "Service With a Smile" was adopted and in 1938 the National office was established in Washington, D.C., with the National president as the only resident officer.
With the changing mode of travel from horse and buggy to automobiles in the early 1920s, rural carriers received their first equipment allowance of 4 cents per mile on January 1, 1925, and this remained in effect until 1934 when it was raised to 5 cents per mile. In 1943 it was raised to 6 cents and that remained until April 1, 1948, when it was increased to 7 cents. During this time our association was making slow progress to increase salaries and by 1920, it reached $1800 and by 1934, $20 per mile for each mile over 30 miles was authorized. Increases continued after 1943 from $120 in 1949, to $400 other years until 1955 when Public Law granted a 6% increase and $22 per mile for routes over 30 miles.
In 1905 six national holidays were granted to rural carriers and in 1906, fifteen days annual leave was provided; in 1922 sick leave with pay was authorized. In 1951, Public Law 82-233 provided graduated annual leave which still remains in effect; 13 days up to 3 years service, 20 days from 3 to 15 years service, and 26 days for more than 15 years service. Additional holidays have been added to bring the total to ten at the present time. (1986)
Retirement benefits that began in 1920 with a contribution of 2 1/2% of employee pay had increased to 6 1/2% employee contributions by 1956 with matching contributions by the Postal Service. In 1970, employee and agency matching contributions increased to 7%. A Cost of Living of 3.9% began in 1969 for annuitants.
Health Insurance for Rural Carriers and their families was made available as Public Law 86-382 was enacted in 1959. On July 30, 1966, the increase of government's contribution to the health insurance premiums went from $1.30 to $1.62 per pay period for self only and from $3.12 to $3.94 for self and family. The government's contribution to carrier's health insurance premiums was increased by Public Law 91-418 to 40% in 1971.The association continued to negotiate increases of 55% in 1973, 60% in 1974, and in 1975, by National Agreement, the Postal Service contribution was 75%.
In 1954, Public Law 83-598 established the Federal Group Life Insurance Program and was liberalized to provide a minimum of $10,000 life insurance for all employees with an option for $10,000 additional insurance in 1967.
The Virginia Association under the able leadership of many outstanding carriers, especially Odell Howerton, long-time state secretary, carried the banner by their cooperation and support of the National Association to see continued change take place in favor of rural carriers' needs. At the 1925 convention, the Ladies Auxiliary was organized with 80 charter members which added support to rural carrier needs. By 1955 women carriers were in evidence as the first woman carrier was appointed to the State Executive Board. Hester Renner Jackson served from 1955 to 1962. History continues to march on~~
Yes, history continues to march on. Having covered a span of 50 years of progress with added benefits of salaries, retirement, health insurance, auto, homeowners and life insurance, we can now get into an era where many names of Virginia rural carriers who have served with honor and distinction are still known as standard bearers for this association.
Lonnie Ward was elected President of our Association in 1958 and served one year but remains active by attending all state conventions and has attended more National conventions than any carrier in Virginia. W.V. "Bill" Nichols was appointed to the Executive Board in 1958, elected Vice President in 1960, and President in 1961. At the state convention in Norfolk in 1963, Bill Nichols was elected Secretary-Treasurer, succeeding Odell Howerton who had served in this office for 39 years, longer than any elected officer in the association. As Bill Nichols assumed the duty of the Secretary-Treasurer he became the next longest servant of the association. He served 21 years as Secretary-Treasurer, Board member, Vice President, and President, giving him a total of 27 years. He, too, has attended all state and national conventions up until the present time.
Ray Shiflett was elected President in 1963 and served 2 years, the only man t serve more than one year in this capacity since O.T. Updike who served 3 years; 1925, 1926, and 1927. Your historian (Bill Greenwood) was appointed to the Board in 1962, elected Vice President in 1963 and served 2 years in this office, and was elected President in 1965. Many able men have followed this path of elected officers and at the 1966 convention by recommendation of President Greenwood, the association adopted the election of Board Members instead of appointment which was to be the forerunner of the requirements of the Labor Relations Board as we entered into the new era for Postal employees.
In 1970, Public Law 91-375 provided for Collective Bargaining for wages, fringe benefits and working conditions. On July 20, 1971, the first National agreement for Postal employees on wage and fringe benefits was signed under the new U. S. Postal Service for a 2-year period. After this National agreement signing, rural carriers were involved in real union activities whereby the steward system was inaugurated. E. C. Showalter was named the first state steward in Virginia. Area and local stewards were established throughout the state and having done his job well, Showalter relinquished his job to Olin Armentrout. Olin served 2 years and then ran successfully for a seat on the National Board in 1975. Maurice Slusher, who had been Auto Insurance Advisor, was named State Steward and has remained in that capacity for some 11 years in a most efficient manner.
The second 2-year National agreement became effective on July 21, 1973. The third agreement was signed for a three-year period in 1975. National agreements have continued in three-year periods up to the present time. (1986)
From some source, I have a copy of the 1927 Virginia Carrier, which states that it was designed to give the news of Virginia carriers between annual conventions. It was to be published monthly on a trial basis because the expense was an unknown factor. How long this lasted I have no way of knowing; however, it was not being published when I became a rural carrier in 1951.
An effort was made to revive a Virginia paper at the Roanoke convention in 1959 as a mimeograph sheet. This type of newsletter continued until the Tyson Corner convention in 1978 when the delegation gave a mandate to update the publication for a better quality newspaper. The first copy of the Virginia Rural Carrier News was published in October 1978 in its present form. President Richard Slate then gave the title of Editor to your Historian. Twelve years as a labor of love in this capacity and in National competition. In 1980 the submitted copies won for Virginia a Third Place Journalism Award at the Wichita, Kansas national convention. With the turn of events in our state, I'm happy to see our present Editor, Richard Slate, begin this same labor of love.
After having lost its bid to host the National Convention in Washington, D.C. at the 1970 Miami convention, the state delegation in convention at Williamsburg met the Richmond Convention Bureau to receive the news that the new Coliseum was being completed by 1973. Meetings continued with the leadership of Virginia Rural Letter Carriers and the Richmond group for a bid to host the National Convention in 1973. Delegates to the Portland National in 1971 went armed for battle and it paid off. The delegates voted to come to Richmond for the National Convention in 1973. This probably was the most historical event since 1959 when Virginia and Maryland hosted the National in Washington, D.C. With the appointment of Bill Nichols as chairman and Rachel Shiflet as co-chairperson, work began for a most successful National Convention ever held on Virginia soil. Over 2,200 registered delegates and friends attended this convention. Team work of carriers from all over the state made it a hit for rural carriers and their families from across America. History marches on ~~
In each of my articles written to date, I have closed with, "History Marches On." It is a known fact that history and time do not stand still, as history is made day by day. Having marched from its beginning of our association in 1904 through many events up through 1975 (when our "Virginia Gentleman" Olin Armentrout was elected to the National Board), Virginia's delegations to National Conventions have supported Olin in some serious campaigns that have led to his election to National Presidency. Not only are Virginians proud of this accomplishment, but national support has now shown it to be a universal feeling that he is the right leader for our time. Since Olin is the only Virginian to reach the top office of our National Association, we have, as a state, contributed leadership at a crucial period for all rural carriers. Many changes are being proposed for rural delivery and negotiations will be pending in the next three-year agreement. Our prayers are that he will be the man of the hour in the top spot of our association during that period.
There has been one other Virginian to serve in a lesser National Office. After retirement, O.T. Updike (past state president 1925-1927) was president of National Pioneer & Retired Carriers in 1966. The minutes I have of state retired carriers do not mention this, but memory and the proceedings of the 1966 National Convention at New Orleans substantiates this to be a fact.
I have no record to show when a Virginia woman was appointed a regular rural carrier. However, in my first article, I mentioned the first woman appointed to the state board was Hester Renner Jackson in 1955. The minutes I have as secretary of retired carriers bears the name of Lucy Robens, secretary of that group as early as 1967, and served until my election in 1979. The last print out of association members in 1980 listed 15 retired women carriers, 115 regulars, and 147 subs. Our state secretary informs me that it is impossible to give a correct number of women members now as so often initials are used in names (which do not denote sex). We do know that in the last decade more women carriers are showing interest in or craft affairs by their attendance at state conventions. Many have been active in locals, especially serving as secretaries and have been most effective in recruiting members.
At the 1979 state convention at Natural Bridge, one outstanding lady has emerged with great ability and leadership as a local secretary. Mae W. McCarty became the first woman elected to the state board and in 1980 became the first women elected as a delegate to the National Convention in Wichita, Kansas. There she received the "Outstanding Carrier Award" that had been announced at the state convention. Mae has continued being elected a delegate and has attended every national convention since that time. In the meantime, she was elected the first woman Vice President and then the first woman President (and served well in this capacity) in 1985.
Then another regular carrier, Janie Reynolds became the second woman elected to the state board in 1982 and also a delegate to the National Convention. Now Janie is serving as our state Vice President and making a name for her leadership ability in craft affairs.
With the movement of more women as regular carriers throughout the state, our Virginia Ladies Auxiliary, organized in 1925, found it necessary to follow the trend of the National organization and changed its name to the Auxiliary to the Rural Letter Carriers Association in 1975. The women carriers husbands resented the name Ladies Auxiliary when they joined this group.
In concluding this march through time, I hope most of the facts to be enlightening and encouraging so that past accomplishments may not be a hindrance to, but a burning desire on the present leadership of our carriers of this great association to go forward to build the future for those that follow them as history has proven what a great future was wrought for us.