Since January, postal workers in 27 states have held protests objecting to a Staples-U.S. Postal Service (USPS) partnership that offers in-store postal services using non-union retail employees.
In late April alone, rallies took place at 56 Staples stores where the company decided to expand its original 82-store pilot program. In Concord, N.H., more than 100 USPS workers wore conspicuous blue shirts and lined a busy commercial road near a Staples store chanting, “Union busting, we say no! The Staples deal has got to go!”
The surge of angry postal workers is at loggerheads with the Postal Service’s efforts to cut costs by adapting to marketplace demands for convenience and a one-stop shopping experience.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told Congress last year that his agency is stymied with a business model that cannot compete in a dynamic marketplace. The agency posted a staggering $20 billion loss over the past two fiscal years and has tried to get Congress to pass legislation to ease its dire financial straits, including an end to Saturday mail delivery and reduced payments on retiree health benefits. The deal with Staples is intended to boost business and customer reach, but postal workers see the decision as defrauding workers. Staples postal counters are staffed by their employees.
“It represents a shift of good, living-wage jobs to low-wage jobs,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). And the living is large for many postal workers: $25-an-hour plus “substantial” benefits. Staples associates staffing the new postal counters average around $8.52 an hour.
Banks and restaurant chains have used the partnership model for years. McDonalds is nearly ubiquitous in Wal-Mart locations and grocery stores host local bank branches and coffee café chains. The USPS itself has long offered postal products such as stamps or drop-offs in retail stores, but certain official mail services were only available from postal employees. Unions see the specially trained postal workers as crucial for mail security and integrity.
With combined membership of nearly 250,000, many APWU and National Postal Mail Handlers Union employees fear the Staples program’s success could also lead to shuttering nearby Post Office locations. But evidence suggests local banks and restaurants only increase their reach through partnership with bigger outlets and their stand-alone locations get enhanced, not shuttered.
Since 2008, the USPS has cut its workforce by 200,000—mainly through attrition—and union workers fear their employer is on a clandestine path to privatization. But the postmaster general said the Staples program is all about customer service and driving up demand for postal products.
“The privatization discussion is a ruse,” Donahoe said. “We have no interest in privatizing the Postal Service. We are looking to grow our business to provide customer convenience to postal products.”