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those reinstated, one— Ed Bicek— is still running on the Elroy
& Rapid City today. By now the public was thoroughly
aroused; it did not know the merits of the case, but it did want
its mail, and without delay. Telegrams poured into Washing-
ton, Pierre, St. Paul, any seat of authority offering possible
relief; both state assemblies petitioned Congress; newspapers
reprinted Harpoon blasts.

It worked. Within tAvo months the line had been raised to
its proper class (salaries $100 higher), the objectionable Blunt
runs were extended to Pierre, and the reduced clerks rein-
stated in grade. Other clerks were induced to transfer to the
line by salary increases, and a semblance of order was re-
stored. It has been claimed that "the boys lost their fight,"
but the record indicates otherwise. And the Department,
alarmed, did not stop there; "Walter's pitiless exposes of tragic
wooden-car wrecks crushing clerks like matchboxes and of
other abuses certainly helped secure corrective action. Con-
gress, in particular, stepped in to pass the first "steel car law"
on March 4, 1911 (the end of the strike)— providing that full
R.P.O. cars had to be constructed under rigid safety speci-
fications and built of equal strength to all other cars of the
train, which meant "steel" on all principal railroads. July 1,
1916, was set as the deadline for withdrawal of all main-line
wooden cars; travel allowance was also increased to $1 a day,
and thirty days' annual leave with pay was granted to certain
six-days-a-week clerks (later voided).

The Railway Mail Association claimed credit for all such
benefits obtained, of course, and doubtless their influence
did help. At their 1911 Convention in June at Syracuse,
Peter J. Schardt, of Saukville, Wisconsin (later a high South-
ern Railway official, just deceased), was elected president to
succeed J, T. Canfield— on a "progressive" platform. Vice
president at the time, he had been an aggressive worker for
better conditions in the strike-famed 10th Division (Wiscon-
sin-Minnesota-Dakota) and later its R.M.A. president, in
contrast to the association's general appeasement policy.
However, instead of threatening a great strike, as expected,
the new president counseled moderation— an action which,


like others of his, is staunchly defended by many N.P.T.A.
leaders even today on the ground that such measures would
have been ruinous; the "time was not ripe for unionism."
The upshot was, however, that the R.M.A. could do little to
help the situation; and it opposed strongly, of course, both
the T.&P. strike and the Brotherhood itself.

There was still the Gag Rule, and discontent and rebellion
seethed everywhere. New groups of indignant clerks were
organized in the Midwest and East, some later absorbed by
the Brotherhood but others consisting of progressive R.M.A.
units— notably in the 1st (New England) and 10th divisions.
Ringleaders in all these fields were fired for their pro-labor
activitites: Charles Quackenbush at Boston, C. P. Rodman
in Omaha, John Albert "Whalen in Des Moines (the clerk
who sent in the famous samples of rotten car wood), and
many others. Whalen, allowed no defense (despite Second
Assistant P. M.G. -published announcements of advance notice
and defense facilities for all accused clerks), published his
whole story in a challenging booklet (see Bibliography). New
England clerks, -wroth at Quackenbush's discharge, elected
him R.M.A. division president over the bitter opposition of
its favor-currying incumbent officers; Quackenbush had to
have his predecessor legally ousted from the hall. But mem-
bers rallied to support him, and finally even got him rein-
stated; the government ordered the voluminous procedings
recorded in a "pamphlet," which turned out to be a 265-page
clothbound book— one of our few all-R.M.S. volumes.!

Postal inspectors spied on meetings of all progressive
groups, took names of those advocating unions or affiliation,
and cited many for discipline or removal; in the T.O.,
Omaha, Nebraska, spying inspectors were put on letter cases.
Five hundred clerks declared they would resign in a body if
General Superintendent Stephens of the R.M.S. were not
removed. They asked instant relief from unpaid overtime,
undermanned runs, unreasonable hours, dangerous cars, and
payless retirements. Secretary Frank Morrison of the A.F. of
L. took up the clerks* cause, and the Department extorted
pledges from clerks to repudiate any group advocating affilia-


tion therewith. Brotherhood members refusing to sign were
reduced or fired on insignificant charges or for "pernicious

The very next year the tide turned. President Gompers
of the A. F. of L. declared boldly for full constitutional rights
for clerks; then progressive Senator Robert M. La Follette,
backed by Senator Lloyd, introduced a sweeping measure
calling for complete abolition of the Gag Rule and summary
dismissals. The bill was the direct culmination of pleas from
the Brotherhood, the Harpoon, a few bold R.M.A. workers,
and the public as evidenced in thousands of letters and news-
paper pleas— many of the letters being replies to an inquiry
sent by La Follette to every clerk in the Service under
promise of anonymity.

In May, President Schardt addressed the R.M.A. in con-
vention at New Orleans. He was expected to support the bill
vigourously, in common with the rest of the giowing pro-
gressive element; there was hope for its endorsement in a
a body by the delegates. But Schardt, after long conferences
with Second Assistant P.M.G. Stewart (General Superintend-
ent Stephens's superior), finally reported to the delegates:

"I argued for hours with Stewart for the right of direct
petition . . . but finally grasped the significance of their posi-
tion. I Avould have been a base poltroon and a traitor to the
cause if I had done otherwise [than agree to oppose such
legislation] . . ."

With the "old guard" all too eager to follow the suggestion
that voting for such an officially-disfavored bill would dan-
gerously antagonize the Department, the convention— after
t^s'ice denying Urban Walter the floor— "ruthlessly slaught-
ered" the resolution favoring the Lloyd-La Follette bill by a
vote of 44 to 20.

Fortunately the bill was enacted anyhow on August 24,
1912, amid great rejoicing by the Brotherhood, which had
fought for it. The R.ALA, later took credit for securing the
act's passage; but the record, alas, must stand. The laiv. Sec-
tion 12 of the Post Office Bill, is still in force and reads essen-
tially as follows:


That no person in the classified civil service . . . shall
be removed therefrom, except for such cause as will pro-
mote the efficiency of said service and for reasons given in
writing; . . . [he] shall have notice of the same and of any
charges preferred against him and be furnished with a
copy thereof, also be allowed a reasonable time for per-
sonally answering same in writing, and affidavits in
support thereof . . .

Membership in any society, association, club, or other
organization of postal employees, not affiliated with any
outside organization imposing an obligation or duty
upon them to engage in any strike . . . against the United
States, having for its objects, among other things, im-
provements in the condition of labor of its members,
including hours of labor and compensation therefor and
leaves of absence, ... or the presenting by any such
person or groups of persons of any grievance ... to the
Congress or any member thereof, shall not constitute or
be cause for reduction in rank or compensation or re-
moval of such person or gioups of persons from said

The right of persons employed in the civil service of
the United States, either individually or collectively to
petition Congress, or any member thereof, or to furnish
information . . . shall not be denied or interfered with.

And Congress did not stop there; it also granted automatic
progressive promotions to clerks after a year's satisfactory
service in the next lower grade, granted up to one and one-
half years' pay to any clerk incapacitated by injury while on
duty, and provided for each eight hours of work of non-road
clerks to be within not over a ten-hour spread.

Such advances, for which the R.M.A. took credit, were all
a great step forward; but the fight was not yet Avon. The De-
partment found ways of circumventing the law to continue
unjust dismissals, and in the same year efficiency ratings were
introduced and often imfairly applied. Regular parcel post
was introduced for the first time January 1, 1913 (Hitchcock
mailed the first one), flooding the unprepared lines and creat-
ing new resentment.


In 1913 the Cincinnati R.M.A. Convention again rode
roughshod over its progressive element, with hundreds of
members deserting; but progress was made too. Direct mail-
ballot election of national officers (as in the Brotherhood)
was decided upon, and even the Harpoon applauded the
move. The R.M.A. announced the securing of an optional
thirty days' leave (payless) per year. And having discovered
serious irregularities in the records and services of Secretary
Wood, the association dismissed him and elected Rufus E.
Ross, a progressive; but conservative August Bindeman
(charter member) was elected editor of the Railway Post
Office to succeed J. A. Kidwell, who as president had once
defied the Department.

The progressive element was headed largely by Carl Van
Dyke of the 10th Division, his division president William
M. Collins, and Edward J. Ryan of Massachusetts (represent-
ing the Quackenbush unionists). Van Dyke, a capable clerk
on the old St. Paul & Devils Lake (C&:NW), hailed from
Alexandria, Minnesota; he was soon disciplined by the De-
partment for "subversive activity" as a Brotherhood charter
member and organizer, being demoted to a low-grade job in
the St. Louis post office. Refusing to accept it he was fired.
Still an R.M.A. member, he was elected division president by
his outraged supporters and offered the equivalent of his
R.M.S. salary to fight for the cause full time. He continued
his effective trips to Washington, helped to secure a salary
increase for certain clerks, and after much frustration finally
organized a "Brotherhood of R.P.C.'s Grand Lodge" (inde-
pendent) to assist the division R.M.A. in raising money for
the cause. Charles J. Wentz, still active in retirement, was
his secretary, and credits him with most of the responsibility
for passage of the Anti-Gag Act. (The St. Paul Branch
N.P.T.A. still owns its spread-eagle official seal.)

Then Van Dyke ran for Congress— on the Democratic
ticket in a Republican district— and won, in 1914, through
support of postal men and thousands of friends. The first
congressman to specialize in openly championing the railway
mail clerks' cause, he secured them many legislative benefits.


He prominently publicized some three hundreds clerks' resig-
nations he had on file, to be handed in if thino^s didn't im-
prove. He pleaded for true unionism in the R.M.A.; but
meanwhile President Schardt had been appointed a chief
clerk in January 1914, to be succeeded by a typical rigid
conservative from Topeka, Kansas— George H. Fair.

On May 1, 1914, the American Federation of Labor chart-
ered the B.R.P.C, as a full-fledged affiliated union, with
Clarence A. Locke as president. They still had plenty of in-
justices to fight against, as their Harpoon files reveal— intimi-
dation against Brotherhood membership direct from avowed
anti-unionist General Superintendent Stephens; a nerve-rack-
ing, demerit-backed "speed test" introduced on all trains to
hound any efficient clerk who was nervous under observation
or just a bit slower than average (some were fired); withheld
promotions for those in official disfavor; rail passes for poli-
ticians and rigidly restricted commissions for clerks; con-
tinued fatal wrecks; diversion of letters and newspapers to
the new terminal R.P.O.s (set up to take over parcels and
circulars), delayed in sacks "held until full"; new mountains
of "stuck" mail, due to insufficient force and poor handling;
and recruiting of "bums off the streets" for substitutes, as
portrayed in a vivid, "libelous" Harpoon cartoon showing
Hitchcock beckoning to them from the window of a house
of ill fame labeled "Postal Service."

And in December, Postmaster General Burleson (who had
succeeded Hitchcock) actually expanded his predecessor's
stern policies in a vindictive proposal to Congress to abolish
the Postal Service's eight-hour day, the one day's rest in
seven, the eleven thousand promotions due to be made in
1915; to cut substitute's salaries to thirty cents an hour, and
put all terminals in the lowest pay classification. He pointed
with pride to this $22,000,000 economy saving to be taken
from the government's most underpaid employees. Yet the
Raihvay Post Office, although publishing articles by progres-
sives decrying the bill and even praising Urban Walter's good
work (June 1913), went the conservative limit editorially-
stating it could not criticize a single point of this program!


But the outraged protests of the B.R.P.C. and R.M.A. pro-
gressives brought immediate defeat to the measure, as pub-
Hcly admitted by Congress.

While the B.R.P.C. expanded its lodges, Senator William
E. Borah was now persuaded to draft a bill to eliminate the
speed test, and hundreds of clerks signed a petition in sup-
port thereof. Stephens promptly announced that he would
"remove for lying" every clerk signing it, adding, "I have
the power, authority, and inclination to" do so. Borah then
openly attacked Stephens in Congress, revealing the scores of
letters he had recei\ed from clerks intimidated into writing
him to "remove my name from the petition;" and accused
him of violating the Act of 1912. Every Civil Service publi-
cation except the Railway Post Office ("That worse than vile
journal"— Walter) joined in denouncing the Stephens threat,
as did the new Congressman Van Dyke.

The crisis came in 1915. Yielding to the agitation, the
Department abruptly demoted Stephens to a division super-
intendent and replaced him by J. P. Johnson. And, tired of
appeasement tactics, R.M.A. members were crying, "Beat the
Old Gang!" to unseat Fair and Bindeman in their elections—
which they did, selecting Ryan (the fighting progressive from
Roslindale, Massachusetts) as president and Collins to a new
position of industrial secretary, to fight for good legislation
and better conditions. Collins, a Chic. & Minn. (CMStP&P)
clerk from \'^erona, W^isconsin, was installed at the San Fran-
cisco Convention in June together with Ryan, and in August
the association succeeded in unseating Bindeman and elect-
ing another progressive, Henry G. Strickland, of Kansas City,
as Railway Post Office editor.

Backed by most R.M.A. members and the Brotherhood,
as well as by the Harpoon's nine thousand to twenty-four
thousand subscribers (reports vary), the anti-speed-test law
was passed. Representative T. L. Reilly, Senator Simmons,
and others joined Borah and Van Dyke in sponsoring good
postal legislation; Reilly even got a B.R.P.C. worker ap-
pointed as a chief clerk at Richmond, Virginia. But the
department had not given up the fight, as evidenced by Sec-


ond Assistant Stewart's heated objections to that appoint-
ment. It chose R.M.A. President Edward J. Ryan as its
immediate target, since he had just issued a plainly worded
(but respectful) protest against some increases in working
hours at lower pay and against unusual hardships and mail
delays already mentioned.

As a direct result, President Ryan and two other leaders
were discharged from the R. M.S.— for "circulating false and
misleading information and fomenting discontent" among
the clerks (cleverly circumventing the Anti-Gag Act in the
wording). Ryan presented a masterful defense, proving that
he had circulated only true facts and that the only "fomented
discontent" in the R.M.S. was because of conditions he was
trying to correct. Stewart, however, not only upheld the
dismissal but canceled from thence forth all R.M.A. extended
leaves and travel privileges and ordered all remaining asso-
ciation officers back to their jobs as clerks.

Strickland and Ross immediately resigned from the Service,
and all three national officers were promptly voted full-time
salaries by the Association— an unprecedented step. By 1916,
R.M.A. officers were actively co-operating with Legislative
Representative Yeates of the B.R.P.C. in backing Van Dyke's
bills in Congress for fifteen-day paid vacations, limited hours,
and better conditions in general— although three old-guard
division presidents, and apparently General Superintendent
Johnson, actually opposed the bills. The bills were passed,
including one which restored reduced layoffs and the termi-
nal straight eight-hour day which had been eliminated by
Stephens; others provided full time for deadheading under
orders and gave holiday and promotion benefits. But the
Department still refused to compromise on the labor affilia-
tion; inspectors opened clerks' letters or hid in doorways to
spot labor-minded R.M.A. officers attending meetings. A
clerk could still get fired by stating facts the "office" didn't

The B.R.P.C. was still determined to eradicate these con-
ditions and others; but its principal battles having been won,
and not havinor much over two thousand members, the idea


of merging with a stronger union came up when Walter
decided to resign as secretary-treasurer and editor. When
the R.M.A. refused to consider the Brotherhood's offer to
merge with them (June 1915), provided that an A. F. of L-
affiliation referendum be held, Carl Freeman (Walter's suc-
cessor) proposed the affiliated National Federation of Post
Office Clerks as a substitute.

The B.R.P.C. voted to approve; and first of all, the famed
Harpoon ended its eight-year career in February 1917, when
it was absorbed as the "Harpoon Section" of the Federation's
Union Postal Clerk. The Brotherhood itself came to the end
of the road on April 25, 1917, when it amalgamated— at least
in theory— with the N.F.P.O.C. But immediate new develop-
ments altered the situation.

The now largely pro-labor R.M.A. , in convention at
Cleveland, directed its Executive Committee to take a refer-
endum vote of its existing members— exclusive of any B.R.P.C.
influx— on the controversial affiliation question; it also au-
thorized the establishment of permanent association head-
quarters in Washington. Two future national presidents
(Collins and J. F. Bennett, a clerk from Alleghany, New York,
on the Erie's N.Y. Sc Salamanca) and a future division super-
intendent were on the Affiliation Committee, which was eager
to reverse traditional policies entirely and take over the
Brotherhood's coveted A.F. of L. charter.

They won— 6,000 votes for affiliation, 2,072 against; and
the R.M.A. 's A.F. of L. charter was issued December 22, 1917.
On either January 1 or February 5, 1918, the association's
new offices were opened in Washington's Bond Building— to
be moved to the A.F. of L. Building in 1920. Aside from its
Portsmouth, New Hampshire Beneficiary Headquarters, oc-
cupied since 1902, this was the R.M.A.'s first real home-the
headquarters having been divided between various presi-
dent's homes, editorial offices in Kansas City, and temporary
rooms in Washington's Continental Hotel.

A large number of B.R.P.C. members now enrolled in the
R. M. A. directly, while the others— temporarily under the
N.F. P.O.C.'s wing— were retransferred to the association by


agreement with the latter federation. (Hence the common
report that the Brotherhood and the R.M.A. "amalgamated"
in 1917.) The real fight was over at last, and the one thou-
sand clerks in three areas who had written out resignations
could now tear them up. The danger of gross injustice and
summary dismissal Avas over, for the power of millions in the
ranks of organized labor was behind the R.M.A.

Legislative benefits secured by the R.M.A. in 1917 included
travel allowances of $1.20 daily and a prohibition of salary
reductions in reorganizations. The Association had redeemed
itself as an undominated fraternal labor union ready to fight
for its members; and Walter, his work in this field done,
turned to other fields— editing a militant journal (Playfair)
for World War I servicemen until his death about 1919. He
was a fearless genius, "sympathetic, square, and upright."

The united Association forged ahead, helping to secure a
.$200 salary increase, $2 travel allowances, and other benefits.
But there was one more serious hurdle to mount: "When
R. M. A. officers asked for a departmental conference on non-
legislative problems, Burleson and his cohorts refused to see
or even recognize them. "They are not railway postal clerks,"
they claimed. Thereupon most of the division R.M.A. presi-
dents (active clerks constituting the Executive Committee,
now Board of Directors) decided to meet with the Depart-
ment without their national officers; but two, the much-
maligned Benton of the 8th Division, and Botkin of the 6th,
stayed away and held out for 100 per cent recognition. Their
firm stand was instrumental (after two fruitless conferences
by the others) in securing the R.M.A. 's complete acceptance
as the clerks' official representatives in 1920. Another help
was the fact that Burleson had just been replaced by Post-
master General AVill Hayes, an understanding man deter-
mined to "humanize the postal service" (he had an inch cut
off the huge No. 1 pouches— called humanizers to this day!).

Early in 1921 the first collective-bargaining agreement ever
made between the government and a federal union, the
R.M.A., was signed by both sides. Samuel Gompers held it
up as a model to other A.F. of L. groups. Meanwhile the


affiliated groups had secured passage of the first retirement
law in 1920 (annuities began at $180 to $720 annually); over-
time at straight time was secured, sick leave with pay restored,
and a standard seniority system drawn up by the R.M.A. and
adopted by the Department. All later amendments thereto
were made by the R.M.A.

Aside from certain retrogressions in 1932—33 (pay cuts,
especially) and in the late 1940s, steady progress has been
made by the Association ever since. Many new friends in
Congress arose: Senators James M. Mead, Thomas A. Burch,
G. H. Moses, and William Langer; Representatives Clyde
Kelly, John H. Tolan, and many others. The N.P.T.A. has
secured hundreds of benefits since 1920 which we cannot
possibly list here, but outstanding among them are (1) pro-
gressive salary increases culminating in a $300 annual war
time bonus in 1943 (made permanent at $400 in 1945),
another $400 increase in 1945, one of $450 in 1948, and one
of $120 on November 1, 1949; (2) steady increases in travel
allowances, formerly $3 per day, on up to $6 by 1948; (3)
longevity payment for current service beginning in 1945,
amended to include past service in 1949; (4) increased com-
pensation for night work and for travel on high-speed trains;
(5) a five and one-half, then a five-day week, in 1935; and (6)
liberalized annual and sick leave and promotions. By ad-
ministrative bargaining, the Service Rating System was hu-
manized and its provisions published; fairly strict sanitary
standards were put in force; trains were made safer, with few
or no fatalities in most recent years; other abuses were

In 1947 the straight eight-hour day (with lunch, wash-up,
and clothes-changing while on duty) was restored to the
terminals, P.T.S., thirty years after its abolition by Stephens;
but within a year the whole setup was abruptly withdrawn.
Similarly, after enjoying standard pay-grade status for years
after Stephens's day, the terminals were cut to the lower
salary grade in 1933 and still remain there; and the high-
speed train differential was abolished in 1950. Remembering
also that all the above salary increases fall far below the


current rise in cost of living, it can be seen that much remains
to be done, as outlined later in Chapter 16.

Meanwhile Collins had succeeded Ryan in the R.M.A.
presidency in 1921, with Strickland becoming industrial sec-
retary as well as editor. CoUins's outstanding work was cut

Online LibraryBryant Alden LongMail by rail : the story of the Postal Transportation Service → online text (page 14 of 38)