The largest union for government postal workers in the United States has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, giving a boost to the Democratic candidate’s slim labor endorsement list.
The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) announced its endorsement in a Thursday morning statement that applauded Sanders’s efforts to prevent post office budget and service cuts.
APWU is the largest union to announce its support for the Sanders campaign thus far. It counts more than 200,000 current and former U.S. postal service workers among its members, in addition to its roughly 2,000 members from private delivery companies.
Sanders has cultivated close relations with the U.S. labor movement throughout his time in Congress. But as a presidential candidate he has struggled to win major union endorsements.
Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has gone out of her way to curry favor with some of America’s biggest unions, and the investment has paid off. The National Education Association — with nearly three million members, it ranks as America’s biggest union — endorsed Clinton last month. She has also received big endorsements from the American Federation of Teachers and the public sector union AFSCME.
Nonetheless, Sanders, a Democratic socialist running on a platform of economic egalitarianism, enjoys the fierce allegiance of many rank-and-file labor activists. More than 5,000 of them have signed an open letter from the independent group Labor for Bernie. And a handful of union locals have rushed to endorse him even as their national wings hold off.
The “starting point” for APWU’s endorsement of Sanders was his “defense of the public postal service and postal workers,” said union president Mark Dimondstein. Although APWU also supports the candidate’s overall economic platform, it was Sanders’ implacable resistance to shrinking the postal service that sealed the endorsement.
“He’s not just for protecting the public postal service, he’s for expanding it, as are we,” said Dimondstein.
Sanders has been among the loudest voices in Congress denouncing proposed service cuts, including an end to Saturday mail delivery. He has also called for the reversal of a 2006 policy requiring the postal service to pre-fund future retiree benefits. In a March 2014 editorial for the Wall Street Journal, Sanders described the requirement as an “onerous and unprecedented burden,” leading to a “manufactured” budget crisis for the postal service.
The Vermont senator is also one of the foremost champions for a proposal to turn local post offices into public banks. Supporters, including APWU, argue that allowing the postal service to offer basic, low-cost financial services like checking accounts would be a win-win for the government and the poor: It would open a major revenue stream for the postal service while giving low-income people a safe, non-predatory alternative to private financial institutions.
Sanders described postal banking as a “great idea” in an interview with Fusion last month.
“I think that the postal service, in fact, can play an important role in providing modest types of banking service to folks who need it,” said Sanders.
Sanders policy director Warren Gunnels, speaking to the Washington Post earlier this week, described the post office as “the most visible symbol of government, every day.” Dimondstein seconded that notion, saying it has “a history of being a small-d democratic force in the country."
“Regardless of race, gender, nationality, income, or geography, we have this absolute right to a universal and uniform mail service to take care of whatever business we want to,” said Dimondstein. “This is really a question of the public good.”