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Campus Mail Use for Advocacy Chapters

    This memorandum reviews current law on chapter (non-collective bargaining) access to campus mail. In the end, college and university administrations are permitted to carry non-collective bargaining faculty organization mail. Below is an overview of U.S. Postal Service statutes and regulations affecting internal campus mail. This memorandum, prepared by the AAUP legal office, does not provide binding legal advice; should you need legal guidance on your particular chapter’s situation, please contact your chapter attorney or another attorney qualified to practice in your state.

    I. Postal Service Statutes Affecting Campus Mail

    The postal service enjoys a monopoly in the carriage of mail over postal routes.The Constitution grants Congress the power to establish post offices and post roads, Art. I, ‘ 8, cl.7, and Congress affirmed the monopoly in its first postal law, passed in 1792. The postal service statutes–called the “private express” statutes–“enable the Postal Service to fulfill its responsibility to provide service to all communities at a uniform rate by preventing private courier services from competing selectively with the Postal Service on its most profitable routes. . . The postal monopoly . . . exists to ensure that postal services will be provided to the citizenry at large.” Air Courier Conference of America v. American Postal Workers Union, 495 U.S. 517 (1991).

    Congress has enacted certain exceptions to the monopoly, while other exceptions have been adopted voluntarily by the postal service. There are two major statutory exceptions that are relevant to union access to employer internal mail systems: “letters-of-the-carrier” and “private hands without compensation.” (Other exceptions in the complex scheme of postal laws permit services such as overnight Federal Express and deliveries by the United Parcel Service.)

    “Letters-of-the-Carrier”: The “letters-of-the-carrier” exemption, 18 U.S.C. ‘1694, imposes a $50 fine on anyone who privately carries letters or packages “except such as relate . . . to the current business of the carrier.” Thus, a college or university may carry its own mail in its internal mail system. The critical question is what kinds of matter “relate to the current business” of the carrier. In 1915 the Supreme Court last interpreted the “letters-of-the-carrier” exemption in a case examining a joint venture between a railroad and a telegraph company. United States v. Erie Railroad Co., 235 U.S. 513 (1915). The Court found that letters concerning the joint venture transported on the railroad related to the business of the railroad because it was a party to the venture.

    “Private Hands Without Compensation”: In 1845 Congress passed another exemption concerning the purely voluntary carriage of mail. For example, say an acquaintance of yours will be traveling to Missoula. Your friend Herb lives there. You write a letter to Herb and give it to the acquaintance for delivery to him. Despite its monopoly on the delivery of mail, the postal service cannot extract the cost of postage from you for this transaction. The reason is the “private hands without compensation” exemption, which allows the gratuitous delivery of mail by private parties, so long as payment does not pass between the sender and the deliverer or the recipient and the deliverer. The prohibition on payment covers both cash and other forms of quid pro quo.

    II. Postal Service Regulation Affecting Campus Mail

    The postal service also voluntarily considers certain situations to be exempt. It has regulations called “suspensions” that describe uses of internal mail that it will not challenge as violations of its monopoly. Please note that the postal service can alter or revoke its suspensions at any time, so they are not completely reliable sources of protection.

    A suspension currently exists for faculty and student groups of a college or university. It provides that the private express statutes are suspended

    on all post routes to permit colleges and universities to carry in their internal mail systems the letters of their bona fide student or faculty organizations to campus destinations. This suspension does not cover the letters of faculty members, students, or organizations other than bona fide student or faculty organizations of the carrying college or university. Colleges and universities choosing to provide their student or faculty organizations access to their internal mail systems are responsible for assuring that only letters of bona fide student or faculty organizations addressed to campus destinations are carried. For purposes of this suspension, “internal mail systems” are those which carry letters on, between, and among the various campuses of a single college or university and which operate in accordance with the letters of the carrier exception. . . .

    39 C.F.R. ‘ 320.4 (1979) (“Suspension for certain letters of college and university organizations”). This section permits, although it does not require, a college or university to carry campus mail for a faculty or student group.

    III. The Difference Under Case Law Between Advocacy (Non-Collective Bargaining) and Collective Bargaining Chapters

    College and university administrations may treat faculty collective bargaining chapters differently than chapters because courts have ruled that the purpose of a bargaining representative is generally too tenuously related, if at all, to the “current business” of an academic institution. See, e.g., Regents of the University of California v. Public Employees Relations Board, 485 U.S. 589 (1988) (ruling that state university’s delivery of unstamped letters through its internal mail from labor union to university employees violates postal service’s “private express” statutes); Fort Wayne Community Schools v. Fort Wayne Education Association, Inc., 977 F.2d 358 (7th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 826 (1993) (holding that public school properly refused to carry most of union’s letters to teachers).

    However, this case law does not appear to affect non-collective bargaining faculty organizations.

    In conclusion, an administration is permitted to grant a faculty organization free access to its internal campus mail system under the postal service’s “suspension” regulation.

    – Last updated June 2007 –