Postal Service, union wrangle over Staples outlets

WASHINGTON — The opening of Postal Service retail centers in dozens of Staples stores around the country is being met with threats of protests and boycotts by the agency’s unions.

The new outlets are staffed by Staples employees, not postal workers, and labor officials say that move replaces good-paying union jobs with low-wage, nonunion workers.

“It’s a direct assault on our jobs and on public postal services,” said Mark Dimondstein, president of the 200,000-member American Postal Workers Union.

The dispute comes as the financially struggling Postal Service continues to form partnerships with private companies, and looks to cut costs and boost revenues.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the program has nothing to do with privatization and everything to do with customer service and driving up demand for the agency’s products.

“We have no interest in privatizing the Postal Service. We are looking to grow our business to provide customer convenience to postal products,” Donahoe said.

Staples spokeswoman Carrie McElwee referred questions about union concerns to the Postal Service.

The deal with Staples began as a pilot program in November at 84 stores in California, Georgia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Union leaders fear that if the Staples program is successful, the Postal Service will want to expand it to more than 1,500 of the company’s other stores. That could siphon work and customers away from nearby brick-and-mortar post offices, taking jobs from postal workers and even leading traditional post offices to close.

Union leaders have been visiting Staples stores to meet with managers, asking them to share the union’s displeasure with upper management.

The union plans to hold “sustained” protests this month at Staples stores in the San Francisco and San Jose, Calif., area that would be expanded elsewhere.

The union says it’s not asking to shut down the program. It wants the counters to be run by postal employees, not workers hired by Staples. The average postal clerk earns about $25 an hour, according to the union, plus a generous package of health and retirement benefits. The Staples post office counters are run by nonunion workers often making little more than the minimum wage.

The Postal Service increasingly has looked to work with the private sector to help increase business. In November, it announced a lucrative deal with Amazon to begin package delivery on Sunday.

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