Chicago — Over 700 postal and other workers walked a picket line in front of a Chicago area Staples store on April 5. The protesters marched back and forth over the block-long sidewalk for an hour and a half, chanting “Whose Postal Office? The People’s Post Office!” Many wore T-shirts that read: “Stop Staples. The U.S. Mail Is Not for Sale.”
Two members of the U.S. Postal Police and a U.S. Postal Service supervisor watched the protest, even though this Staples store features no postal counter. Marchers were angered by the USPS attempt to intimidate and track off-duty postal workers, and union officials plan to file a grievance over the unwarranted spying.
Last October, the USPS announced a no-bid, sweetheart deal to open postal counters in more than 80 Staples stores. The Staples postal counters are less secure than public post offices and they are staffed with low-wage Staples employees.
Packages dropped off at Staples stores are placed in unsecured containers and, as the Approved Postal Provider Agreement notes, packages and letters at Staples stores are not considered “mail” until they are picked up by the Postal Service.
The U.S. Postal Service and Staples plan to expand this “pilot” project to 1,500 Staples locations nationwide, while the USPS eliminates public post offices.
“This is a bad deal for consumers, for workers and for the country,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “It makes no sense to transfer critical public services to a private, for-profit company that has closed 159 stores in the past year and recently announced it will close 225 more stores by the end of next year.
“Instead of using public resources to bail out a struggling company, the USPS should use its unmatched nationwide network of people and facilities to take advantage of new opportunities, such as package delivery for e-commerce sales and offering new services — like low-cost basic banking — that meet the needs of American consumers. …
“If we’re going to have mini-Post Offices in Staples stores, they should be operated by uniformed postal employees, who have taken an oath and are accountable to the American people.” (APWU press release, April 4)
Privatization’s goal: Low wages
At an April 1 National Labor Relations Board hearing — the result of an Unfair Labor Practice charge filed by the APWU — a December 2012 internal USPS document revealed secret details of the sweetheart deal, named the Retail Partner Expansion Program:
“The pilot will be used to determine if lower costs can be realized with retail partner labor instead of the labor traditionally associated with retail windows at Post Offices. …
“Transferring USPS product and service transactions to retail partner locations should allow USPS to cut costs associated with window labor time and credit card transaction fees. Initial analysis suggests that Retail Partners can sell USPS products and services at a projected cost-to-serve of $0.16 per revenue dollar, which is less than a third of the cost-to-serve observed at traditional Post Offices.” (apwu.org/news/April 7)
The 58-page agreement reveals Staples is getting a discount on postal products, but customers will pay full price. The amount of the discount was redacted in the document.
In plain language, the deal is intended to sidestep labor costs by transferring window-clerk duties to private businesses. It adds up to privatization and an attack on the living wages that the APWU and other postal unions have won over decades of struggle.
And the Staples deal is just the first step to place these postal counters “in leading national and regional retailers’ store locations nationwide.”
According to USPS witness Brian Code’s testimony at the NLRB hearing, postal executives studied postal retail trends in Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, Australia, Canada and other countries, and used them as models for the program. Postal retail operations are privately owned and operated in many of those countries, such as 98 percent in Germany, 88 percent in Sweden and 81 percent in Australia. Lower wages, fewer benefits and slower mail service are common features in privatized mail firms.
Since the privatization of Britain’s Royal Mail last year, its mail agency has eliminated 1,600 jobs, increased the price of stamps by 35 percent, sold postal data into private hands and granted the company’s boss a pay raise of almost $2.5 million.
The British example undoubtedly serves as the ultimate goal of corporate, congressional and postal executives.
Thousands of postal workers and supporters are planning to march on April 24, a National Day of Action, with protests planned at Staples stores across the country. For more information, readers can visit StopStaples.com.
WW photos: Joseph Piette