Our Retail Units Are Not for Sale!

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(This article appears in the March/April 2014 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)

John H. Dirzius, Northeast Region Coordinator

As the old adage says, “the handwriting is on the wall!” The message, “privatize America’s Postal Service,” is in bold print.

Just take a look at the retail side of the USPS and you will see a shift from traditional post offices to Village Post Offices; Stamps by Retail, which includes grocery stores and other establishments that sell stamps; Automated Postal Centers located in postal lobbies; Stamps by Mail; Click-n-Ship and more than 3,300 Contract Postal Units (CPUs).

And let’s not forget management’s newest pilot program, which put postal counters in 82 Staples stores in four geographic areas around the nation. Six of the Staples postal counters are in the Northeast Region — in the Worcester MA area, near the company’s headquarters.

There are currently 65,000 retail alternatives — and the USPS five-year plan says the goal is to increase “alternative access” from 40 percent to 60 percent.

‘Don’t Close Our Post Office’

The efforts to replace traditional postal services are not new. In 2009 the USPS launched the “Station and Branch Optimization and Consolidation Initiative,” which was just a fancy name for plans to close more than 3,000 post offices. In 2011 management undertook another scheme to close 3,700 rural post offices.

As required by law, the Postal Service conducted studies, provided notice to the public, and held a series of public meetings. The overwhelming outcry from communities was, “Don’t close our post office!” Members of Congress joined the debate and before long these “initiatives” were placed on the back burner – or were they?

In 2012 more than 237 post offices were closed. At the same time, the USPS was running an ad campaign known as “USPS Everywhere,” which highlighted the vast number of alternatives customers could use to conduct postal business.

While the Postmaster General was assuring everyone that mass closures would not occur, the USPS implemented yet another program, Delivery Unit Optimization (DUO). Under DUO, more than 1,500 small delivery units were consolidated into larger offices. But after all was said and done, the USPS Office of Inspector General concluded that it could not determine whether DUO reduced costs or improved operational efficiencies. However the damage was done.

The Plot Continues

The orchestrated plot to destroy America’s Postal Service continues in full force.

Following Delivery Unit Optimization, the next buzzword of the day was the POStPLAN (Post Office Structure Plan). With a cool name like POStPLAN, how could it be bad?

Instead of closing post offices or DUOing offices, the POStPLAN offered communities the option of closing their post office or keeping them open just two, four or six hours per day. The POStPLAN not only reduced the retail hours in 13,000 small post offices, it eliminated our jobs. To date, the hours at more than 8,500 offices have been cut and another 4,500 offices remain on the chopping block.

Under the guise of seeking public input before cutting hours, the USPS scheduled public meetings in the affected communities. The meetings were held in the small lobbies of impacted offices and scheduled during the workday. The results were just as management intended — limited public input or none at all.

On a positive note, the APWU aggressively challenged the POStPLAN through a national-level grievance. Hearings were held in May and September 2013 and we are awaiting a decision from the arbitrator.

Our Goal: Preserve and Expand

However, management’s drive to invent new ways to privatize retail services marches forward. The latest effort is called Relocation. In the Northeast Region and around the nation the union has been notified of USPS plans to relocate post offices and stations. Many historic post offices are on management’s relocation list — offices that were built and paid for with public money during the Great Depression.

These downtown historic buildings are being sold and the post offices are being relocated to smaller non-descript buildings. In some situations, the post offices are relocated outside the neighborhood. More alarming are cases where the historic post offices are sold before a new location for the post office has been found.

How’s that for transparency and public input? Although the regulations governing the relocation of post offices are less stringent than the rules governing the closure of post offices, they still require public notice — to elected officials and the community — and a public meeting to obtain input prior to the actual relocation. Sadly, even these basic rules are bent to avoid real public input.

Why? Because the public outcry would be, “Stop the relocations.”

As management’s threats to postal retail increase, so must our efforts to confront their misguided and destructive policies. Our goal must be to preserve and expand America’s Postal Service for generations to come. I join with my follow coordinators, Sharyn Stone, Omar Gonzalez, Mike Gallagher, and Kennith Beasley, in asking every APWU member to join with us to save America’s Postal Service and our jobs!

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