“The US Mail Is Not For Sale,” read signs of demonstrators at 56 Staples stores in 27 states across the US.
The demonstrators were postal workers, who belong to the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), and their supporters taking part in APWU’s April 24 National Day of Action against a postal privatization deal between the US Postal Service (USPS) and Staples.
The deal allows Staples to handle mail and provide other postal services at some of its stores. Depending on the results, more private retail stores could be allowed to act like Post Offices.
“As a nation, we need to decide what kind of Postal Service we want,” said mark Dimondstein, APWU president. “Are we going to have a vibrant, modern, public mail system that serves all of the people, or are we going to let privatizers kill this great institution?”
Dimondstein and APWU members are also concerned the privatization deal with Staples, which USPS refers to as co-location, will compromise the security of the mail, undermine service, and replace good-paying Postal Service jobs with low-wage private sector retail jobs.
The union said that it supports the expansion of services into retail stores as long as mail services are provided Postal Service employees.
“The American people have a right to know that their mail is handled by highly trained uniformed postal employees who have taken an oath to protect the sanctity of the mail and who are accountable to the people of the country — whether it’s at the Post Office or an office-supply store,” said Dimondstein.
USPS Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has said that USPS’ co-location agreement with Staples is not indicative of future plans to expand privatization of postal services.
But the union obtained a 2012 internal memo suggesting otherwise.
The memo discusses the Approved Shipper Plus pilot program, whose purpose is, according to the memo, “to determine if lower costs can be realized with retail partner labor instead of the labor traditionally associated with retail windows at Post Offices.”
The Staples co-location deal implements the Approved Shipper Plus pilot program.
“The Staples deal is designed to avoid USPS labor costs by transferring window duties to private businesses,” said Dimondstein. “That’s privatization.”
While the privatization of mail services will cost the US many good-paying postal jobs, the union is also concerned that privatization will worsen service and make mail less secure.
According to the co-location agreement, the terms of which USPS have tried to keep secret, Staples employees who handle mail will receive only four hours of training and mail received at Staples stores will be placed in unsecured containers and won’t be considered mail until it is picked up by USPS.
Postal workers aren’t the only ones concerned about under-trained employees of a private company handling their mail.
A recent report on the results of a survey of postal customers, states that customers expressed concern that their mail wouldn’t be handled by postal employees at co-location sites.
“I want a real postal employee to handle my mail,” said one woman in response to the survey. “It’s like when you go in to a drug store to get a flu shot. You don’t want to get it from a regular Walgreen’s employee.”
The survey also found that customers expect a high level of service from the Post Office, which Dimondstein says is incompatible with privatization.
“The USPS can’t walk away from unprofitable neighborhoods,” said Dimondstein. “Before the USPS can make significant changes to service, it must notify the citizenry and allow the people to offer input. Staples has no such responsibility. Staples has one obligation: to make a buck for shareholders. In March, Staples announced plans to close 225 stores. No notice. No input.”
One of the biggest April 24 demonstrations was held in Washington DC, where APWU received support from other unions including the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Handlers Union, the American Federation of Government Employees, and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
The California Federation of Teachers, which is affiliated with AFT, will soon vote on a resolution asking their members to buy school supplies from a retailer other than Staples. It’s estimated that 30 percent of Staples’ revenue comes from back-to-school sales.
At the Washington DC rally, Dimondstein made it clear that APWU is determined to stop mail privatization.
“This is a fight against the Wall Street privatizers,” he said. “This is a fight we intend to win.”