Postal workers fight for child care

A roundtable Unity interview in San Francisco, California

SAN FRANCISCO – The mail moves 24 hours a day. In postal facilities across the U.S., thousands of workers — many of them single parents or with young children — work evening and graveyard shifts. Needless to say, child care is often impossible to come by.

Five years ago, a group of women from the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) here decided to do something about it. Since then, they have been fighting for 24-hour, onsite child care at the San Francisco General Mail Facility (GMF).

Last fall, through their efforts, nearby Whitney Young Child Development Center Inc. opened its doors evenings and overnight to postal workers’ children. This achievement has been hailed by the national APWU and the U.S. Postal Service, and is one of two projects nationally to receive joint labor/management support. The struggle to win employer-sponsored child care for postal workers continues to be an aim of the national APWU.

Members of the San Francisco GMF Child Care Project say they’ve just begun to fight. Five of them talked about it with Unity‘s John Molloy, a postal worker and parent. Karen Wing, committee chair, is vice president of the San Francisco APWU. Maryann Medina is Western Regional Coordinator for APWU Post Office Women for Equal Rights (POWER). Maxine Phifer chairs the local APWU committee on job stress. Susan Ho and Martha Alexander have helped build the committee from the beginning.

Susan: When I first started at the post office, I was working nights. A lot of people on night shift had problems with child care. Since then, I’ve had kids and I’ve experienced the problem myself. My mom takes care of them in the daytime, so I could get some sleep, but I couldn’t ask her to take care of them in the nighttime too.

Karen: A lot of people, single mothers, would get disciplined or suspended because of child care problems. I felt that the post office should provide it. Good child care is important, because that’s our future.

Martha: No matter how we tried to talk to the staff in the post office, it was always shoved aside. Everything we did was on our own. We kept meeting at least once a month, with people outside the post office as well as inside. Karen would hear about meetings, call us, and say, “You want to go?”

Maryann: We were trying to go at management, but we found that if we can’t get through this door, we’ll try another one – different child care places, politicians that have child care meetings for their constituents, unions, and conventions. The big break came when we met Ms. Reid at the Whitney Young child care center. She decided that we had been working long enough, so she was going to see that we really got something.

Maxine: Onsite care is the ultimate goal, which would include infant care and sick care, which we don’t have now. We should offer more services, such as parenting classes, having a social worker there on duty s,o if people are having problems, there’s somebody they can talk to.

Martha: There was so much we didn’t know: beds, food, the kind of mattresses the kids have to have, blankets. It’s like getting your own house set up. You don’t realize that until you do it.

Karen: Overnight child care is a new thing, so we want to make sure it does work. Because then we’ll have a basis to get the post office to take some responsibility. We’re not going to get things handed to us. They have to look at us and say, OK, they’re not going to go away.

Maryann: We want to put all our experiences into a how-to book and send it to different parts of the country, so all the background work we’ve done, others won’t have to go through.

Karen: We did fun things for the kids — a picnic, contests, a fashion show. The goal is not only to get quality child care, but to show that kids are rich with energy and talent that should be expressed as well as developed.

Maryann: We’ve branched out and started other groups. Maxine started her stress thing, and now we’re going to get the (APWU) hearing-impaired conference in San Francisco. We’ve learned how to organize.

Martha: We stayed together because we believed. We have our ups and downs but we still hang on in there.