Morris “Moe” Biller, longtime president of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), died on Sept. 5 at 87. He had served as president of the U.S. Postal Service’s largest union since 1980. Two years ago, he retired, but retained the title of president emeritus.
Biller spent the majority of his career fighting not only for higher wages for postal workers, but also for improved working conditions. That stemmed from his own personal incident early on when he was a substitute mail clerk in the late 1930s earning $0.65 an hour and having no benefits or vacation. Becoming involved in union activities soon after, Biller was elected president of the Manhattan-Bronx Postal Workers Union in 1959, serving in that position until he was elected national president of the APWU in 1980.
In 1970, Biller led the only federal workers strike in history, leading a postal workers strike in New York. The strike spread to 30 cities involving 200,000 postal workers, forcing President Nixon to activate the National Guard to handle the mail. The action led to the Postal Reorganization Act in 1971, which created the U.S. Postal Service as a quasi-governmental public company. Under the new law, postal workers were given generous wage increases, improvements in working conditions, and the ability to bargain for better wages and benefits. The law also instituted procedures to prevent future strikes.
In 1971, Biller served on the committee that led to the merger of the five postal unions that now comprise the APWU. In a statement, Postmaster General Jack Potter called Biller a “forceful, innovative leader. Although we often disagreed, he was tireless in his efforts on behalf of the APWU and the USPS.”