By Mark Wachtler
September 23, 2014. Pittsburgh. (ONN) The war between teachers unions and Staples office supply stores appears to finally be over. Actually, we weren’t aware the war had begun. But over the last nine months, unions and USPS officials have been secretly working to thwart the other’s intentions. The USPS opened up mini post offices in Staples stores and unions across America responded by launching a boycott and protests outside their stores. The unions may have won the last battle, but Staples won the war.
Unions protest Staples for selling USPS stamps and services. Image courtesy of NWLaborPress.org.
The simple question is, would you rather wait in line to buy stamps or mail a package at your local Post Office or at your local office supply mega-store? Nobody knows that exact answer yet and America’s labor unions have been determined to make sure we never find out. When Staples began selling stamps and offering simple Postal services at 82 test stores, unions across America announced boycotts of the office supply chain in solidarity with USPS union employees who may someday lose their jobs due to the competition.
Staples - USPS deal
The Staples-USPS partnership was made in October and announced in January. And over the next few months, organized labor unions slowly came to the aid of their fellow union workers at the Post Office. By July, the union forces launched a coordinated nationwide protest, demanding that Staples stop offering postal services, especially since the lines were shorter and the employees were friendlier.
That was the brilliance behind the partnership between Staples and the Postal Service. Unlike your neighborhood post office, Staples is open in the evenings, on Saturday afternoons and all day Sunday. The line is probably only 5 minutes, if that, compared to the half hour line at the post office. It’s also fairly documented that Staples pays their employees a lot less than the USPS, even though the Staples employees provide much better service. The USPS is going bankrupt and attempting to save itself by shutting down under-used branches and laying off unneeded employees, both tactics fiercely opposed by America’s unions, and both predicted to intensify if the Staples-USPS merger is allowed to continue.
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Union postal employees were the first to announce a boycott of Staples office supply stores over its pilot program of offering post office services in a handful of its stores. In April, the first major non-postal labor union voted to join the boycott - the mighty California Federation of Teachers.
“The Executive Council of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), representing 120,000 educational employees from Head Start through university, voted unanimously last evening to boycott office supply and bulk goods retailer Staples,” the union’s April announcement began, “The CFT took this action at the request of the American Postal Workers Union, which has been opposing a no-bid sweetheart deal between the United States Postal Service and the giant office supply chain to operate postal counters in Staples stores.”
In June, the AFL-CIO joined the Staples boycott. In July, state chapters of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers all over the country were energetically voting to join the postal workers in their boycott of Staples. The unions insisted that if Staples were allowed to sell USPS stamps and shipping services, it would put 80,000 postal workers out of work. They even produced data showing that post offices near Staples pilot programs were cutting their hours.
A website called StopStaples.com was even launched which proclaimed, ‘Staples and the US Postal Service have cut a deal that jeopardizes thousands of living-wage jobs, as well as your mail service. A no-bid deal between Staples and the Postal Service set up postal counters inside 82 of the office supply stores in four test markets - staffed with untrained, low-wage, Staples employees.’ The website is still actively boycotting the office supply chain.
Staples admits defeat, not
On July 15th, with the image of dozens of red-clad, sign-carrying protesters outside dozens of their stores, Staples executives announced they were ending the pilot program with the Postal Service. But what was actually going to take place was the exact opposite. The stores would continue to sell postal services and may even expand the practice into stores outside the four states the partnership was being tested in (California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts).
The company’s press release said only that it was ending the “pilot program” with the USPS. And a company spokesman, VP Kirk Saville, would only say, “Staples will continue to explore and test products and services that meet our customers’ needs.” But while unions celebrated the news, the business press had gotten wind of the real story. Outlets like the Wall Street Journal explained how Staples had just thrown the unions a curve ball.
Apparently, while it’s frowned upon to offer stand-alone post office services in your retail store, it’s perfectly fine to do it if you also offer FedEx and UPS services right next to it. As detailed in the WSJ report, that’s exactly what Staples is doing. While it was technically ending its pilot program of USPS-only shipping services, it was actually keeping the program and expanding it to include other shippers.
The account quoted American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein calling the announcement a “ruse” and demanding that Staples stop selling USPS products and services all together. Attempting to put a positive spin on the obvious defeat, the union leader said, “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.”
For months, the postal union has been suing the USPS to make public its secret agreement with Staples. One month ago, a court ruled that the USPS must turn over a copy of the confidential agreement as well as hundreds of emails from the executives that arranged the deal. “We think this is a secret, dirty deal between the postal service and Staples and we want transparency for this country and the postal workers,” the union’s Dimondstein said.
For the record, Whiteout Press typically supports corporate labor unions but typically opposes government employee unions. The USPS is a mutated version of both.
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