Postal workers union launches national effort to protect jobs and postal services

The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) said that a new method that the US  Postal Service is using to determine duty assignments in local post offices “is an all out assault on our jobs” that will reduce service to customers and disrupt the lives of thousands of post workers.

The union also said that the new duty assignment method, which local managers are supposed to use to determine staffing levels at local post offices, “blatantly violates” the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the Postal Service.

Consequently, APWU has launched a nationwide, coordinated effort to stop the contract violations.

“We are gearing up for a large fight,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “I know that if we stick together and stay united, then – just like the Stop Staples and contract struggles – we will be victorious.”

APWU successfully mobilized members, postal customers, and other unions to stop the Postal Service’s plan to privatized services by contracting with Staples, the US’ largest office supply retailer, to provide postal services in Staples stores.

APWU also mobilized members to win a fair contract through its Good Postal Service! Good Jobs! Good Contract! campaign. The solidarity shown by members during this campaign made it hard for the Postal Service to win the concessions it was seeking during the negotiations, which lasted nearly a year.

When an impasse between the two sides was declared, the contract went arbitration.

As a result, according to Government Executive magazine, “the union won a series of new rights and benefits for non-career workers, and protected the benefits of regular, full-time employees the Postal Service had previously threatened.”

The union also won protections against layoffs .

But the Postal Service now appears to be using the back door to achieve what it couldn’t achieve through contract negotiations–reducing layoff protections for career postal employees.

Article 37.3.A.1 in the postal workers collective bargaining agreement with the Postal Service contains specific language about how managers are to determine duty assignments at local post offices.

This language requires Postal Service managers to use “all available work hours” to determine duty assignments.

The new method that the Postal Service wants managers to use ignores Article 37.3.A.1 and instead relies on a fanciful estimation of work hours needed to determine staffing levels at local post offices.

The union is concerned that if the Postal Service uses this new method, local post offices will be left under staffed, customers will be under served, and postal worker jobs will be in jeopardy.

 

The union is planning a national strategy to protect jobs and services at local post offices.

In addition to meeting with management at all levels of the Postal Service to protest the new duty assignment method, the union is conducting a national coordinated fight to stop its implementation.

The union is providing local officers and members with specific training about the duty assignment issue across the country, so that if local managers ignore the collective bargaining agreement when assigning duties locals of APWU will be able to file effective grievances.

Locals are also conducting a public outreach campaign aimed at informing the public about possible threats to services created by the new duty assignment method.

The Baltimore APWU local on June 10 held an informational picket at the city’s main post office. The picket was attended by local members and community supporters.

The union has also designated National Business Agents in each area to work with local officers and members “to develop strong grievances, coordinate our actions, and put our best foot forward in addressing these issues.”

“As postal workers we must fight together against the Postal Service ongoing willingness to blatantly violate the contractual agreements they made with us. It is important that postal workers attend their local union meetings where we can learn from each other and work on strategies to slow or stop management’s plans to reduce service to the community and disrupt the workforce. If we come together in an organized manner, we can win a better Postal Service and a better workplace,” reads a statement issued by the union.

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Postal workers fight for contract that improves customer service

During a May 14 Day of Action by the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), the union and a broad coalition of supporters called for a new collective bargaining agreement that improves customer service.

The current collective bargaining agreement expires on May 20, and the union and the US Postal Service (USPS) have been bargaining since February for a new agreement.

APWU has put forward a number of contract proposals to improve customer service, including halting post office closures, expanding post office operating hours, bringing back overnight delivery of first class mail, and expanding services available at post office.

“What we are fighting for . .  .  is good postal service, living-wage jobs, and a good contract, now!” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein at a Day of Action rally in Washington DC. “The American Postal Workers Union and all of you are fighting for the people of this country, for a vibrant public Postal Service for generations to come. That’s what the people deserve and that’s what the people should have.”

The Washington DC rally was one of 130 Day of Action events in 42 states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

Postal workers were joined by supporters from a number of community and labor organization who are standing with postal workers in their fight to protect and improve postal services.

“We are sending a clear signal that we are fighting a struggle and we plan to win that struggle,” said the actor Danny Glover at the Washington DC rally. “We are not just supporting postal workers. We have the chance not only to save the post office, but to change the nature of how we deal with the public.”

Glover also talked about one of the union’s contract proposal–postal banking.

The union is proposing that USPS provide basic banking services such as check cashing, bill paying, and small loan lending at post offices.

Banks have largely abandoned communities with high concentrations of low-wage workers.

Banks in these communities have been replaced by payday lenders, which charge high interest rates, and check cashing companies, which charge fees.

Postal banking would provide a banking alternative in these under served communities.

The union’s fight to expand services and protect the ones that many of us take for granted comes at a time when the Postal Service is under attack.

According to its critics, the US Postal System is in a state of crisis that demands cuts in services rather than their expansion.

But this so-called crisis is one that has been manufactured by those who want to dismantle the Postal System and privatize its most lucrative services.

It began in 2006 when Congress passed a law that required USPS to pre-fund its retiree health care benefit for the next 75 years with billions of dollars of payments over a ten-year period.

Pre-funding retiree health care, a practice that no other private company or government entity does, has siphoned away an average of $5.6 billion a year away from postal services.

Without this unique and unprecedented pre-payment requirement, USPS would have generated a $1.1 billion surplus in the first quarter of fiscal year 2015. For fiscal year 2014, the surplus would have been $1.4 billion and for fiscal year 2013, it would have been $600 million.

But instead of surpluses, pre-funding has burdened USPS with deficits, which have led to cuts in services.

In January USPS implemented a new round of cuts that among other things virtually eliminated overnight delivery of first class mail.

Previous cuts caused the closure of 140 mail processing centers and under staffing, both of which have slowed mail delivery.

Eighty-two more mail processing centers are scheduled for future closings.

Critics say that the internet has made the Postal Service irrelevant and that most of the work it does can be done better by private companies.

But USPS, which provides service to every community regardless of whether it is profitable to do so, remains an important catalyst for commerce and communication.

In 2014, USPS delivered 155 billion pieces of mail. In January 2015, letter volume increased by 7 percent and package delivery increased by 14 percent over January 2014.

USPS provides these services efficiently and effectively. A test conducted by Consumer Report in 2014 found that USPS outscored Fed Ex and UPS, its privately-owned competitors, in convenience and reliability.

USPS also was less expensive than its competitors 92 percent of the time in next-day and second-day deliveries.

The importance of the Postal Service to the everyday life of the American people is one of the reasons that people like Danny Glover are joining the Grand Alliance to Save Our Public Postal Service.

“We have a Grand Alliance that is saving this national treasure that belongs to us,” said Glover referring to the Postal System. “We will make sure that it remains in our domain.”

Glover urged people to show their support for postal workers and the public Postal Service by signing and sending a postcard of support to the Postmaster General.

Postal workers bargaining to protect the public good

At the opening bargaining session for a new collective bargaining agreement between the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and the US Postal Service (USPS), APWU broke with tradition by proposing changes to the Postal Service that will protect and expand this vital national service, so that it can better serve the public good.

“The APWU is passionate in our support for the crucial mission of the public Postal Service,” said Dimondstein. “But today this mission is in jeopardy. It’s threatened by a congressionally manufactured financial crisis, by those on Wall Street that would like to get their hands on the Postal Services’ $65 billion in annual revenue, and by ideologues who oppose the very concept of the public good.”

The Postal Service is an essential though often overlooked catalyst for commerce and communication in the US, and APWU’s bargaining proposals include those that reward APWU members for their important work.

“We’ll seek to end a “three-tiered structure that pays workers significantly different amounts for performing the same work,” said Dimondstein. And “we believe that all postal workers should be justly compensated, provided a safe workplace, and after our careers have concluded, enjoy a dignified retirement.”

But in addition to seeking fair pay and benefits,  APWU will use this round of collective bargaining to seek service improvements.

“We will be putting forth proposals for maintaining overnight delivery standards, halting plant closings, expanding hours of service and staffing for the customers, and providing financial services such as postal banking,” said Dimondstein.

Postal banking may sound far-fetched, but 2014 the USPS Office of Inspector General proposed doing so.

“APWU supports allowing the Postal Service to provide basic financial services to the 68 million American adults who don’t have bank accounts or have limited access bank services,” said Dimondstein.

 

Many of these workers turn to check cashing stores and payday loan companies for their banking services.

“In 2012 Americans without bank accounts spent 10 percent of their budget on interest and fees at check cashing companies and payday lenders,” continued Dimondstein.

Non-profit postal banking would help many of these workers keep more of their paychecks.

Dimondstein pointed out that Post Offices already sell money orders and between 1911 and 1967, they were places where workers could open and maintain secure savings accounts.

Postal services in other countries provide basic banking services. The Pew Charitable Trust reports that, “three of four postal operators worldwide offer financial services, which are used by more than 1 billion people.”

APWU will also be proposing ways to end delays in mail delivery.

APWU reports that in January USPS lowered service standards that virtually eliminate overnight mail delivery. Mail delivery will continue to deteriorate if USPS carries through with its plan to close 82 mail processing centers.

The union will be bargaining to keep open distribution centers slated for closure and for adequate staffing levels that will make it possible to raise service standards.

Another APWU negotiating goal is to protect the public good by stopping privatization. USPS has already entered into a secretive, no-bid contract with Staples, the office supply store corporation, to provide postal services and has outsourced some of its ancillary work.

“Privatization of postal services doesn’t just hurt postal families, it thwarts a constitutional right that is guaranteed for all Americans: A public Postal Service,” said Dimondstein.

To emphasize that there is more at stake during these negotiations than just improving wages and benefits, APWU has initiated a contract campaign to mobilize both its members and the public to support its fight for quality postal services.

As part of this campaign, APWU has won the support of more than 60 national organizations. According to the union, “this unprecedented alliance is comprised of national religious coalitions, retiree organizations, educational and postal and other unions, lawmakers, and progressive advocacy groups.”

To show their solidarity with APWU, representatives of some of these groups attended the first bargaining session.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and Danny Glover, the famous actor whose parents’ were postal workers, both gave brief speeches expressing their support for APWU’s goals.

In a video explaining why he is supporting the union’s goals, Glover said that “now more than ever we need the Postal Service to thrive and innovate for the future.”

“Join me in a Grand Alliance to strengthen a cherished institution, our Postal Services, a public trust and a national treasure,” added Glover.

Staples boycott still on says postal workers union

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.

Staples tries to elude effects of boycott; changes name of Mail privatization deal

Staples, one of the largest office supply chains in the US, announced on July 14 that it is ending a privatization pilot program to provide postal services at more than 80 of its stores across the US.

But the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) said that the announcement was a ruse undertaken by the company to reduce the impact of a boycott against Staples organized by APWU.

Staples’ announcement came two days after the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) passed a resolution at its national convention supporting the boycott.

According to Mark Dimondstien, the deal between Staples and United States Postal Service (UPS) has changed names but not purposes. Staples will no longer provide postal services as part of the Approved Postal Services Provider pilot program, but instead will do so under the Approved Postal Shipper program.

“The Staples announcement and a letter from USPS dated July 7 make it clear: They intend to continue to privatize postal retail operations, replace living-wage Postal Service jobs with low-wage Staples jobs, and compromise the safety and security of the mail,” said Mark Dimondstein, APWU president. “This attempt at trickery shows that the “Don’t Buy Staples'” movement is having an effect. We intend to keep up the pressure until Staples gets out of the mail business. The US Mail is not for sale.”

The boycott support resolution passed at the AFT national convention held in Los Angeles criticizes the USPS’ privatization pilot with Staples as a “no-bid, sweetheart deal” that could jeopardize the security of the mail and lead to the replacement of good paying Postal Services jobs with low-wage, high turnover retail jobs.

The resolution also notes that teachers are facing their own fight against the privatization of public education and that “the AFT and postal employees are fighting a common battle against privatization.”

The resolution urges AFT members, their family, and friends “to no longer shop at Staples until further notice.”

According to the Chicago Teachers Union, an AFT affiliate, “teachers have an especially important role to play in this fight. Staples knows that teachers spend billions of dollars at office supply stores each fall and throughout the school year for the benefit of their students.”

During the convention, thousands of teachers attended a support rally for postal employees called by APWU.

The International Association of Fire Fighters has also joined the Staples boycott.

The IAFF announced on July 13 that the union’s executive board unanimously voted to support the boycott.

“The IAFF supports the APWU in its efforts to protect good-paying jobs and ensure the highest possible standards of customer service,” said IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. “IAFF affiliates, members and families have done a substantial amount of business at Staples. This no-bid contract between Staples and the USPS is an attack on postal workers and middle class jobs, and yet another attempt to shift good union jobs to part-time, low-wage non-union hourly workers.”

Union blames privatization deal for reduced Post Office hours

The US Postal Service reduced Post Office hours at 21 of its 39 stores in San Francisco. The reduced access comes at a time when the Postal Service is experimenting with a privatization deal with Staples, the office supply corporation, in the San Francisco Bay Area and other areas of the US.

“They’re shutting the doors (to the Post Offices) at 5 P.M. and posting signs sending people to private locations–including Staples–to conduct postal business,” said Geoffray Dumaquit, president of the San Francisco local of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). “This will inconvenience and irritate our customers who often need to visit a Post Office after work.”

In a related development, the AFL-CIO has endorsed the APWU boycott of Staples and sent a letter to affiliated unions urging members to honor the boycott.

The no-bid deal with Staples is a pilot program that involves 80 stores throughout the US, including several in the Bay Area. Under terms of the deal, Staples employees will provide a variety of postal services including accepting and handling packages and letters bound for the Postal Service.

APWU opposes the privatization deal because low-paid, high-turnover Staples employees with little training are handling the mail, putting the integrity of postal service at risk.

When the privatization deal with Staples was announced, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said that the deal would not result in any closures of the 33,000 US Post Offices.

But the reduced hours at the San Francisco Post Offices, some of which are near Staples stores, is an ominous sign.

“First they take an hour, then they’ll take the whole day,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “We’ve said all along that this is a plan to close Post Offices and outsource postal work. They’ve got a sign on the door that says ‘We’re closed, go to Staples.’ It couldn’t get much more obvious than that. After driving customers away, postal management will conduct a study of traffic in Post Offices and find that it’s gone down. Then they’ll claim to have the evidence they need to justify closing Post Offices.”

To keep Post Offices open and accessible, APWU has launched a campaign to stop the privatization deal with Staples.

In April, thousands of postal workers and community supporters demonstrated against the privatization deal at 56 Staple stores in 27 states.

More recently, APWU members demonstrated at the June 2 annual meeting of Staples shareholders.

“Staples is a company with declining sales, with plans to close 200 stores by the middle of next year,” said Dimondstein in a statement issued prior to the shareholders meeting. “Shareholders need to ask management why they are involved in this kind of controversial deal when they have so many problems to fix in their core business.”

The endorsement of the Staples boycott by the AFL-CIO could create more problems for the troubled office supply chain.

Fifty-six unions representing 12.5 million members and potential Staples customers are affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

Prior to the AFL-CIO’s boycott endorsement, three statewide teacher unions–the California Federation of Teachers, American Federation of Teachers-Michigan, and American Federation of Teachers-New Hampshire–endorsed the boycott.

School supply purchases comprise about one-third of Staples sales.

“Opposition to the Staples deal is growing,” Dimondstein said. “(In addition to the boycott), thirty members of the US House of Representatives from California have called on the Postmaster General to scrap the program. We’re going to keep educating consumers about this dirty deal. The U.S. mail is not for sale.”

Union fights mail privatization deal with Staples

“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.”