The United State Postal Service (USPS) on January 5 told its largest union of employees that the Postal Service was ending a three-year experiment with postal privatization.
USPS in 2014 began collaborating with Staples, the largest retail office supply company in the US, to provide postal services at 500 local Staples stores. The collaboration between USPS and Staples was part of the Postal Services’ Approved Shipper program, a pilot privatization program.
The American Postal Workers Union (APWU), whose members work in local post offices and sorting centers, launched the Stop Staples campaign to stop the privatization of its members’ jobs. The campaign included a boycott of Staples, the mobilization of union members to spread the word about the privatization of mail services, and demonstrations and rallies at Staples stores.
“We have won the Stop Staples fight,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of APWU, in a broadcast message to members. “We won the fight under the banner that the US mail is not for sale.”
USPS began its Approved Shipper program, which allowed employees at selected retail outlets to provide basic postal services, under the guise of making postal service more convenient to the public.
While the Approved Shipper program was in the planning stages, APWU told management that the union supported making postal services more convenient, but that to ensure that customers receive quality service and that their mail was safe and secure, postal employees should be the ones working in stores to provide mail service.
The Postal Service didn’t agree and went ahead with its privatization experiment.
An internal memo that circulated among Postal Service executives showed that better customer service was not the real reason for the privatization experiment. Its real purpose, according to the memo, was to lower labor costs.
“The deal between the United States Postal Service and Staples was clearly an effort to shift good living-wage, union jobs into non-living wage, non-benefit, non-union jobs,” said Dimondstein.
Privatizing postal jobs was, according to Dimondstein, also a threat to universal postal service in the US and to the security of the mail.
APWU decided that it had to take a stand to protect the integrity of the Postal Service and to protect its members’ jobs.
“If Staples was going to take our work and jobs for private profit, we were going to hit back and affect their bottom line,” said Dimondstein.
The first action of the campaign took place in April 2014 when APWU held demonstrations and rallies at 56 Staples stores in the US.
After the national demonstrations, APWU called for a boycott of Staples. The AFL-CIO added Staples to its boycott list, and the American Federation Teachers and the National Education Association urged their members to avoid Staples when shopping for supplies for their classrooms.
While APWU members continued to leaflet and demonstrate at Staple stores, Staples engineered a merger with its chief competitor Office Depot. The union reacted by opposing the proposed merger.
The union provided the Federal Trade Commission with union sponsored reports detailing the problems that the merger would create.
The Federal Trade Commission blocked the merger, which cost Staples $250 million in penalties that it had to pay Office Depot.
In 2016, the Postal Service Inspector General issued a report on the Staples Approved Shipper program. The report, among other things, found that Staples clerks in many instances were charging the incorrect amount for mail services costing the Postal Service much needed revenue.
The report also found that Staples was “not following mail security requirements.”
Most recently an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board ruled that the Postal Service failed to meet its obligation to bargain with APWU about shifting union members’ jobs to non-union workers.
Finally in the first week of January, the Postal Service told the union that it will discontinue the Approved Shipper program at Staples in February.
Dimondstein said that the union victory had significance beyond restoring work outsourced to Staples.
“In regards to the USPS’s planned retail privatization expansion to dozens of other corporations, those companies have largely backed-off and gotten the message – mess with postal workers and customers and you will have to tangle with the APWU family!” said Dimondstein.
Now that the Staples experiment has ended, Dimondstein urged the Postal Service to work with the union to expand postal service and make it better.
“With the Staples deal out of the way, there is a fresh opportunity for postal management and the APWU to consider the future expansion and improvement of retail operations without these misguided privatization schemes that undermine great service, good jobs, and a strong postal brand,” said Dimondstein.