Postal workers and teachers on August 27 staged a back-to-school rally in downtown Boston urging teachers and parents to boycott Staples when shopping for school supplies.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) is experimenting with outsourcing Postal Service jobs, and chose Staples to operate the outsourcing pilot program. Under the terms of the agreement between USPS and Staples, Staples will provide an array of postal services at 82 of its stores, and USPS will evaluate the results and decide whether to expand the outsourcing project nationwide to Staples’ 1,500 stores.
The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) is fighting this attempt to outsource good paying Postal Service jobs to a retailer that pays low wages, but the union said that its fight against outsourcing is more than a fight to save jobs.
“It is about protecting the public Postal Service,” said John Dirzius, Northeast Region coordinator for the APWU. “Many people are outraged that a cherished public asset is being used to prop up a struggling private company.”
“Contracting (postal service) out to a third party will diminish that service and weaken a great American institution,” said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, whose members joined the postal workers’ August 27 rally. “We stand behind our postal workers 100 percent and will urge our members to boycott Staples.”
USPS management’s public position is that the pilot with Staples isn’t an outsourcing project and that postal workers don’t need to fear losing their jobs, but an internal USPS memo obtained by APWU suggests otherwise.
“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,” reads the memo.
APWU’s campaign against the outsourcing pilot has had some success.
In July, Staples announced that it was withdrawing from the pilot project after APWU members picketed several Staples stores and several teachers unions announced that they would urge their members to boycott Staples. About 30 percent of Staples’ revenue comes from selling school supplies.
But Staples’ announcement turned out to little more than a public relations gambit. The pilot stores have continued to offer the same postal services as they did before the announcement. The only difference is that Staples and USPS changed the name of the outsourcing pilot from “Retail Partner Expansion” to “approved shipper.”
The back-to-school rally in Boston was aimed at making sure that the public knows that the outsourcing pilot with Staples is still going forward and so is the boycott.
According to Mark Dimondstein, APWU president, Staples has launched a major marketing drive aimed in teachers in hopes of softening the impact of the boycott.
APWU has countered with online ads asking teachers and parents to do their school supply shopping elsewhere.
APWU is also encouraging locals to spread the news about the boycott.
“I encourage all APWU members to ask the teachers they know and the parents of school-age children they know to buy school supplies from other stores,” said Dimondstein. “Locals should distribute the (boycott) flyers and ask for support from our friends and allies throughout the labor movement and in our communities.”
Staples is facing stiff competition in the office/school supply business from Walmart and Amazon, and that competition has had impact on sales.
Staples recently reported another quarter of declining sales and as a result, plans to close 140 of its stores.
Staples outsourcing deal with USPS could provide the company with a new source of revenue that could make up for lost sales, but a Boston APWU leader questioned whether it’s appropriate for USPS to prop up a company that appears to be on the decline.
“A failing private company doesn’t belong in the postal business,” said Bob Dempsey, vice president of the APWU’s Boston Metro local. “Postal consumers want reliable service from highly-trained workers who have taken an oath to protect their letters and packages. Staples can’t offer that.”
Staples and USPS suffered another setback on August 13 when a National Labor Relations Board administrative judge ruled that USPS must provide APWU with an unredacted copy the outsourcing pilot agreement between USPS and Staples.
The judge agreed with the union, which argued that the agreement contains information about outsourcing work covered by the collective bargaining agreement.
The union wants this information, so that it can perform its own cost benefit analysis to determine whether the outsourcing project can really save money.
USPS had argued that it couldn’t turn over the agreement because it contains trade secrets.
“The secrecy prompts the question: What are they hiding?” asked Dimondstein.