Postal workers in Sacramento on Thursday joined colleagues in 26 other states to protest an ongoing program that features postal counters and services staffed by retail employees in Staples stores.
Protesting workers contend that the United States Postal Service’s “sweetheart deal” with Framingham, Mass.-based Staples Inc. is a step toward privatization that displaces good-paying, unionized postal worker jobs with comparatively low-paid nonunion workers who are poorly trained to handle the mail. They warned of possible postal worker layoffs, post office closings and, ultimately, the breaking of the postal workers’ union.
Offering postal service at Staples is just one of a number of steps the postal service has implemented or proposed in recent years as it has lost billions of dollars due largely to declining mail volumes and enormous fixed costs, especially for pensions. Unions representing postal workers see threats to their members in many of the agency’s moves.
Calls seeking comment from Staples were not returned on Thursday. The company previously has said that it strives to provide diversified services for the convenience of customers.
In Sacramento, more than 20 chanting, sign-carrying workers with the American Postal Workers Union and affiliated groups assembled at 2 p.m. for a peaceful, four-hour rally in front of the Staples store at 3631 Truxel Road, in the Natomas Marketplace shopping complex. Also represented on-site were the National Association of Letter Carriers Union, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association and the Sacramento Central Labor Council. The APWU represents 200,000 USPS employees.
The APWU’s “National Day of Action” included rallies at more than 50 Staples stores nationwide. In Sacramento and other cities ‑ including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. ‑ protesters carried signs saying, “Stop Staples, The U.S. Mail Is Not For Sale.”
“The Postal Service belongs to the people, and the public has a right to know that customer service and the security of the mail are being threatened,” said Chuck Locke, an official with APWU’s San Francisco region office.
As he passed out printed information on Thursday, Locke warned that the USPS is moving away from its long-standing history of having a post office in every community in the United States.
“It shouldn’t matter if you’re in a rural area or a city, if you’re rich or poor. The Postal Service should be available to all. … It shouldn’t be taken away if an area is not profitable, or have (service) reduced to just certain hours during the week.”
Locke said the USPS-Staples partnership is “taking away good, stable jobs (paying $25 an hour on average) and replacing them with low-wage, high-turnover jobs.” Union officials also contend that poorly trained retail workers compromise service to postal customers and jeopardize the security of the mail.
Late last year, Staples began offering in-store postal services under a pilot program put into more than 80 Staples stores. Officials said the USPS ultimately wants to expand the program to hundreds more Staples stores across the country.
Ted Edwards, president of APWU Sacramento Area Local 66, said the union is not flatly opposed to postal services in Staples but that the public would be better served by staffing in-store sites with thoroughly trained postal workers. He also said the Staples postal counters foster mailing delays because they are “middlemen” between the customer and postal workers that ultimately must handle the mail.
“People don’t want their mail delayed for days. … We’re trying to get the message out to the public about what is really going on,” Edwards said.
For its part, the USPS has defended its business relationship with Staples as one of numerous efforts to streamline operations and emerge from a long-standing cycle of crippling debt.
Amid billions of dollars in red ink – a loss of nearly $16 billion in 2012 and $5 billion last year ‑ the USPS has considered numerous actions to cut costs and bolster its financial footing, including cutting Saturday mail service nationwide, selling post office buildings with historical significance and reducing retiree benefits.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe maintains that the USPS is endeavoring to meet consumer demand for convenience and efficiency. USPS officials said offering postal services in retail sites where consumers routinely shop is a natural. The USPS already has partnerships with more than 60,000 sites nationwide, including No. 1 retailer Wal-Mart, that sell various postal products. The Staples partnership goes further, including on-site mailing of packages and offering of priority and certified mail services.
Donahoe also has insisted that “we have no interest in privatizing the Postal Service.”
Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.