Each week, we’ll share a post getting to know a member of the Guild community. This week, we’re excited to learn about John Pani, Branch President of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPMHU) Branch 103, and a returning Guild school student and member of the Guild’s Student Advisory Council.
“I consider myself someone who doesn’t like to see injustice. I’ve always been the one to stand up and say ‘this is wrong.’ I did it in life, I did it while I was a letter carrier, and now I do it as Branch President.” – John Pani
John Pani is the Branch President of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union Branch 103. Since the beginning of his career in the postal service, John has felt strongly about standing up for what’s right. When he was transferred to the Mail Handlers Union in 2014, he had a lot of experience standing up for himself on the job and knew he wanted to become a steward. One of the most important factors for John in taking on this role was having a strong mentor. John says that it was Sean Sweeney—the previous president of NPMHU Branch 103 and another Guilder—who asked him to be a steward less than 3 months after joining the union. Sean’s mentorship, combined with John’s experience in the postal service, gave him the tools to be successful in this capacity.
John says in his 12-year career at the postal service, the first 9 years as a letter carrier were the most pain-staking, and he experienced a lot of hell from management. In hindsight, it was the best education he could have asked for to prepare and condition him for the position he’s in today. “I felt under attack every day. To be under such duress, it didn’t faze me. I always had that weight. Now, instead of just representing myself, I was representing everyone. I used my skills that I learned to help other people push back when they need it.” As he came into this role, his relationship with Sean provided another source of learning: “I saw how he would fight for people, and I couldn’t ask for a better education. Learning from someone who, after 28 years on the job and 20 years as a steward, still has so much passion for the job and tries to make things better, where others with this many years generally become complacent.”
John says that his learning experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom, have been important in demonstrating his leadership and how much he cares about the union. “The most important things are talking to people, seeing what the issues are, and actually following through. I think that’s why I’m in the position I am today. I’m not a talker, but I act. The Guild definitely added to my foundation to be able to be in the position I am now.”
John has attended four terms of school at the Guild. He has taken both the introductory and advanced classes for stewards, and has also taken courses on labor movement history, leadership, and labor law. His favorite class has been Stewards II, because of the interaction between the students and going through the process of mock arbitrations.
The Guild has also helped him develop skills and tools for working with different parties he interacts with as president. “For the members you have to develop a relationship with management. We get what we need to get done for our members. That’s another thing the Guild helps you with. It’s not just the classes and teachers; it’s about hearing other people when they talk. You get a grasp on the struggle other unions are going through, you take the stories and tools and figure out how they apply to your situation.” His learning in classes covering labor law and leadership led him to implement an open door policy in his position as president, and has reinforced the importance of listening, transparency, and honesty throughout the union.
John’s learning is closely connected to his hopes for others in his union and the labor movement going forward. One of John’s goals is to mentor other people in the same way Sean has guided him. He also wants to ensure that, when he is no longer president (whenever that may be), “I want someone to look after union members with as much passion as Sean had and as much as I have. I want to know that it’s somebody who’s going to take the job seriously. That starts with things like taking classes at the Guild, coming to Futures Committee meetings, things like that.”
John’s desire to be involved and fight for himself and others came from John’s family—his father was an immigrant from Italy, and seeing his struggles when he came to this country is part of what motivates John to stand up for justice. John says, “Most of my life has been the post office, and it’s been my passion to push back against the injustices there. And I think that’s why I’m in my position. People saw that I’m that guy. It’s innate in me.”
The Guild is lucky to have a student and supporter like John!