APWU Vows to Stop the Great Postal Giveaway

When Staples agreed to put USPS retail units in its stores, the office-supply chain may have gotten more than it bargained for.

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(This article appears in the January-February 2014 edition of The American Postal Worker.) 

In a deal that has been in the works at least since March 2012, the USPS announced in November that it was launching a pilot program to place postal retail units in more than 80 Staples stores in four states: California, Georgia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

(View a list of Staples locations with postal units here)

Some of the sites opened quietly in October and others opened in November, including some where ribbon-cutting ceremonies were held. If postal management and Staples consider the pilot successful, the program may be expanded to the chain’s 1,600 other locations. Agreements between the USPS and other big retailers may follow.

“This is a direct assault on our jobs and on public postal services,” APWU President Mark Dimondstein declared when he heard the news.

“The APWU supports the expansion of postal services. But we are adamantly opposed to USPS plans to replace good-paying union jobs with non-union low-wage jobs held by workers who have no accountability for the safety and security of the mail,” he said. “Postal workers deserve better, and our customers deserve better.” 

In his first meeting with Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, eight days after taking office as APWU president, Dimondstein insisted that if the plan proceeds, the postal units at Staples must be staffed by career postal employees.

The APWU followed up with a request for information about the specifics of the deal, and instructed the union’s attorneys to explore legal avenues to challenge the program.

Dimondstein also requested a meeting with Ron Sargent, the Chairman and CEO of Staples, to discuss the union’s concerns.

But the APWU doesn’t intend to let the matter rest there.

The union is embarking on a campaign to stop the great giveaway of postal jobs and work to Staples. “While these efforts proceed, we will begin preparations for protests at Staple stores across the country,” the union president said.

The campaign will emulate the APWU’s successful battle to stop Sears from establishing a similar in-store postal retail program — 25 years ago!

In October 1988, when management informed the union of a test program placing postal retail units in 10 Sears stores in Chicago and one in Madison WI, the union objected immediately. And when management refused to reconsider the plan, APWU President Moe Biller asked union members to protest the program.

APWU members heeded the call in unprecedented numbers. Union members mailed thousands of letters of protest to Sears Chairman Ed Brennan. Many cut up their Sears credit cards and included the shredded plastic with their letters. The union organized informational picket lines at the Sears Tower in Chicago — the company’s corporate headquarters — and at Sears stores. At the time, Sears was the nation’s largest retailer.

The APWU also sought and won support from other labor organizations. The New York City Central Labor Council — the nation’s largest, representing 1.5 million workers — also sent letters objecting to the program to the Sears CEO and to Postmaster General Anthony Frank.

Finally, on June 30, 1989, the Postal Service announced that the Sears postal units would be shut down by Oct. 1. Mary Jean House, a spokeswoman for Sears, said, “We prefer to remove ourselves from an issue that should be resolved by the postal workers and the Postal Service.”

After a year of struggle, the APWU had stopped the program, which could have eliminated thousands of USPS retail jobs.

President Biller said, “As the thousands of APWU letters poured into the office of Sears Chairman Ed Brennan every day, it obviously became clear to Sears that postal workers know how to fight when they are under attack. The possibility of a nationwide consumer action against Sears, led by the APWU, was too much of a price for Sears to pay for participating in postal management’s privatization scheme.”

Today’s APWU president couldn’t help noticing the similarities between the battle over Sears and today’s fight over Staples. “Two-and-a-half decades ago, the APWU warned of the dangers of privatization,” he said. “Today the danger is much, much greater.

“Postal management will undoubtedly try to convince our members that this arrangement is beneficial because it creates revenue for the USPS,” Dimondstein said. “But revenue without good union jobs is not in the interest of our members. Postal services that are performed by anyone other than well-trained postal workers will not serve the American people well,” he said.

“The Staples pilot is a huge step toward privatizing retail services,” Dimondstein said. “If we don’t draw a line in the sand, mail processing and other operations will soon follow.”

The Staples units will offer most postal products and services: They will sell stamps; accept first-class letters, Priority, Priority Express, standard mail, first-class packages, and certified mail. The units will be operational during Staples’ business hours — as late as 9 p.m. on weekdays, on Sundays and many holidays. And, in a unique arrangement, the office supply giant will offer 5% Staples Rewards for the postage on packages paid for and shipped at its locations.

“We can only stop these privatization plans if we work and fight together,” Dimondstein said. “We will keep APWU members informed of any progress at the national level. In the meantime, prepare for action!”



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