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Postal Service, union wrangle over Staples outlets

Postal Service Union Fight

WASHINGTON (AP) - The opening of Postal Service retail centers in dozens of Staples stores around the country is being met with threats of protests and boycotts by the agency's unions.

The new outlets are staffed by Staples employees, not postal workers, and labor officials say that move replaces good-paying union jobs with low-wage, nonunion workers.

"It's a direct assault on our jobs and on public postal services," said Mark Dimondstein, president of the 200,000-member American Postal Workers Union.

The dispute comes as the financially struggling Postal Service continues to form partnerships with private companies, and looks to cut costs and boost revenues. The deal with Staples began as a pilot program in November at 84 stores in California, Georgia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania as a way make it easier for customers to buy stamps, send packages or use Priority and certified mail.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the program has nothing to do with privatization and everything to do with customer service and driving up demand for the agency's products.

"The privatization discussion is a ruse," Donahoe said in an interview. "We have no interest in privatizing the Postal Service. We are looking to grow our business to provide customer convenience to postal products."

Staples spokeswoman Carrie McElwee referred questions about union concerns to the Postal Service. She said the company "continually tests new products and services to better meet the needs of our customers."

Union leaders fear that if the Staples program is successful, the Postal Service will want to expand it to more than 1,500 of the company's other stores. That could siphon work and customers away from nearby brick-and-mortar post offices, taking jobs from postal workers and even leading traditional post offices to close.

Union leaders have been visiting Staples stores to meet with managers, asking them to share the union's displeasure with upper management.

Dimondstein asked to meet with the Staples CEO Ronald Sargent, who has declined.

The union plans to hold "sustained" protests this month at Staples stores in the San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., area that would be expanded elsewhere. Union officials also are considering how they can exert pressure on Staples shareholders.

"If Staples insists on continuing to refuse to staff those stores with postal workers, we're going to urge people to take their business elsewhere," Dimondstein said.

The union says it's not asking to shut down the program. It wants the counters to be run by postal employees, not workers hired by Staples. The average postal clerk earns about $25 an hour, according to the union, plus a generous package of health and retirement benefits. The Staples post office counters are run by nonunion workers often making little more than the minimum wage.

The Postal Service increasingly has looked to work with the private sector to help increase business. In November, it announced a lucrative deal with Amazon to begin package delivery on Sunday.

The agency has struggled for years with declining mail volume, but the lion's share of its financial plight stems from a 2006 congressional requirement that it make annual $5.6 billion payments to cover expected health care costs for future retirees. It has defaulted on three of those payments. The Postal Service lost $5 billion over the past year, though operating revenue rose 1.2 percent.

So far, the Postal Service has rebuffed the union's demands.

As far as who will staff the counters, "that's Staples' business. They make their own business decisions and it has nothing to do with us," Donahoe said.

Donahoe said he'd like to see post office counters in every Staples store "as soon as possible." But he doesn't see them as replacing any of the 33,000 traditional post offices. He said he sees the program as an opportunity "to grow the business."

James O'Rourke, a professor of management at the University of Notre Dame, said the Postal Service is simply following the trend of other businesses such as banks and medical clinics opening in grocery and drug stores to get more customers and save overhead costs.

"You can't blame the union for looking suspiciously at this move, but from the perspective of postal management and postal customers, this is all good," O'Rourke said.

Donahoe acknowledged that it could save money in employee costs, but insisted that is not the agency's motivating force. Since 2008, the Postal Service has reduced its employees by more than 200,000, mainly through attrition.

"Keeping our expenses down is no different than what any other business would do," he said.

Back in 1988, the Postal Service tried a similar plan to put retail units in Sears stores in Chicago and Madison, Wis. APWU members picketed Sears headquarters in Chicago, mailed thousands of letters of protest to then Sears Chairman Ed Brennan and even cut up their Sears credit cards.

The pressure worked and a year later the program ended, with Sears saying it did not want to be at the center of a dispute between the Postal Service and the union. But the APWU's membership now is almost half of what it was 25 years ago, and unions don't carry the same clout they once did.

Dimondstein, who took the helm of his union in November and pledges a more activist approach, insists his members will bring considerable pressure on Staples.

"I think we have a lot of clout," he said. "We're in every hamlet, town, city and state in the country."

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
gkstemple January 19 2014 at 4:14 PM

"Grow our business" and "increase demand for our products"?? In my area, you've REDUCED Post Office hours to 4 per day - 8 AM to 12 Noon at one and 9:30 AM to 1:30 PM at the other. The Postmasters? Both were offered and elected early retirement. The "Offices" are staffed by PART-TIMERS (not "Postmasters") who are ineligible for benefits and paid peanuts, but still do exactly the same things the "Postmaster" did every day (including reports) - in HALF the time it took the "Postmaster". The working stiffs in the community (and that's nearly everybody) aren't going to buy ANYTHING because they're WORKING during your abreviated hours. Calll me crazy, but most business efforts to incrase demand for their products and grow their business do NOT curtail their hours and significantly downgrade staffing levels.

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ggalonso gkstemple January 19 2014 at 4:42 PM

it is all in an effort to privatize the postal service and end door to door delivery. Everyone will have to go to near by postal centers, located in Staples or to boxes in the middle of nowhere to pick up their mail. all in the interest of putting public money into private companies pockets. Look at England, they have done this. They are the template. Don't be fooled that just because it is in the Constitution that someone can't get rich off of it and poor people whith no cars and shut ins will have no way of getting their mail.

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jechandle January 19 2014 at 10:38 PM

It's Romney's revenge. Staples is a Bain Capital staple, is it not?
The postal service is mandated in the body of the Constitution for a reason, so that no one can interfere with the flow of mail.
Leave it to Mitt's gang to figure out how to tap profits from a government function again. They did it with the Salt Lake Olympics. Why not the post office?

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1 reply
abcstarfox jechandle January 19 2014 at 11:45 PM

Good post....... favd.

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peg January 19 2014 at 11:01 PM

There are 7 post offices within a 2 mile range of my house! What a waste of money. If my sons ran their businesses like USPS runs theirs they'd be out of business in a hurry.

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Mik's $ Toy January 19 2014 at 11:02 PM

What does the PO head honchos expect? They are raising the rates for first class mail by three cents this year - a month ago I was due to receive a package by 8 p.m. on 12/28 - the dumb delivery person left it at the wrong house, and it took another four days before they finally FOUND my package and got it to me. The PO needs a major over-haul and get rid of excess employees and retrain those who remain

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bob January 19 2014 at 12:17 PM

It seems that the union feels that it's only purpose is to protect the status quo of the workers, while ignoring the changes in the economy and the competition. I'm sure the horse-and-buggy industry took a similar stance when the government started purchasing trucks rather than wagons for the troops. 'Saving' the jobs of $25/hr clerks while running the company financially into the ground is not really saving the jobs at all. When the whole thing goes bankrupt, they'll expect the government to pick up all the retiree obligations.

Comments like 'the USPS is self-sustaining' are misplaced, when the PO loses billions annually, defaults on pension requirements, and requires rates increases every other year. I like the idea of a base pay, augmented by profit-sharing bonuses. Let the union write the contract even, that way they'll have no one to cry about when their pay plummets.

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1 reply
robc1958 bob January 19 2014 at 6:05 PM

Why shouldn't rates go up ? What do buy today, that cost the same as it did a year ago? 2 years ago?

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weeziebathome January 19 2014 at 12:17 PM

At the very end of 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA). Under PAEA, USPS was forced to “prefund its future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years in an astonishing ten-year time span” — meaning that it had to put aside billions of dollars to pay for the health benefits of employees it hasn’t even hired yet, something “that no other government or private corporation is required to do.”
Does anyone remember who was in office in 2006?

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Vickie weeziebathome January 19 2014 at 12:41 PM

nooo, it had to pre-fund the existing retirees

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weeziebathome Vickie January 19 2014 at 3:17 PM

Google it - both existing and future.

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Sonny weeziebathome January 19 2014 at 1:02 PM

The Democrats controlled congress...........Remember?

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cnmcnm January 19 2014 at 12:12 PM

why do they have P.O. in small towns? When it is only about 7 miles from a larger P.O.?

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2 replies
PJ Tonkin cnmcnm January 19 2014 at 12:17 PM

It may be hard to believe, but as a newlywed, my hubby and I lived in a small town. There was no mail delivery in town, so we had to rent a PO Box, and walk to the Post Office to pick up our mail. Seven miles would have been a long walk. We also had many who lived in town and had no vehicle.

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mattiedog27 cnmcnm January 19 2014 at 12:17 PM

congress won't let the PO close them.

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DANSLUCKY2 January 19 2014 at 11:34 PM

Based on all the delivery mistakes and problems my postman has caused me, he's not worth $25/hr plus benefits. You can't get these postal workers fired, the union protects them. There is a formal, internal process that protects the employee.

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barryaclarke DANSLUCKY2 January 20 2014 at 12:14 AM

Hmmm, the postal worker has made one mistake in the 12+ years he has been delivering mail to my home. But, I do know when he goes on vacation because that excellence stops. Thus, there are good and bad people in all jobs. Some are worth their weight in gold where as some of the others should be in the unemployment line. I guess the bottom line is not to judge everyone based on the action of one person...............

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vanodland January 19 2014 at 11:36 PM


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randolphnolen January 19 2014 at 11:59 PM

So they mailed their protest letters to Sears? Bet Sears never got them.

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