The U.S. Postal Service announced in a letter to the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) that the deal between the U.S. Postal Service and Staples has ended. Staples will be removing all signage and will discontinue postal services at the national retailer’s roughly 500 U.S. locations that handle postal services by the first week of March 2017. In response, APWU is calling off the boycott of Staples effective immediately and will notify its many supporters and allies.
This is a big win for the public, as well as the 200,000 members of APWU and the union’s allies who waged a national campaign, Stop Staples, against the office-supply chain and a battle against the USPS over the Postal Service’s partnership with the national office supply retailer. Three years ago, the union challenged the USPS’ scheme of privatizing postal retail operations and shifting postal services from neighborhood post offices to Staples locations. The union contended that this privatization effort undermined the public’s right to good quality and secure postal services and represented a shift of good living wage positions to low-wage jobs, thereby hurting the well-being of the communities where the union’s members lived.
APWU’s members strongly believed that this plan would diminish the USPS brand by having mail processed in unsecured locations by workers who had little or no training in protecting the privacy and sanctity of the mail, as well as ineffectively serving the customers with the broad array of postal products and services.
“The public Postal Service is a national treasure that was treated like a cheap trinket by the former Postmaster General,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “First, former Postmaster General [Patrick] Donahoe cut a dirty deal to set up post offices staffed by Staples employees in 82 Staples stores. Then they downgraded the offerings to the ‘Approved Shipper’ status in hopes of ending the protests, but expanded nationally. In each case, the security and the sanctity of the mail, the training of clerks, and proper oversight were tossed out the window. This was bad for the consumer, bad for the USPS brand and an insult to our dedicated members.”
Staples and USPS announced in late 2013 that they would launch a pilot program operating mini post offices in the company’s retail outlets. The initial test markets were the San Francisco Bay Area, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and the Boston suburbs.
Beginning in 2014, the APWU held protests, rallies and other demonstrations outside Staples retail locations and the Staples headquarters with crowds that at times numbered in the thousands, proclaiming “The U.S. Mail Is Not For Sale!” APWU members from across the nation joined the campaign and participated in street protests and leafleting efforts to educate customers about the dangers of privatized postal services, which would result in the decline of service to the postal customers.
The union organized a national boycott of Staples stores that was joined by other labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), the Laborers-National Postal Mail Handlers Union (LIUNA-NPMHU), the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Service Employees International Union, the National Union of Healthcare Workers and, perhaps most importantly, the nation’s two largest teachers unions, the AFT and the National Education Association. A significant portion of Staples revenues is generated by the sale of school supplies.
Following the AFT’s convention in July 2014, where the union’s leadership announced that it would ask its 1.6 million members, colleagues and family members to boycott the chain and buy school supplies elsewhere, Staples and USPS announced that they were ending the mini post office idea and would handle postal services through the already existing “Approved Shipper” program. APWU at the time called this “a ruse.” Dimondstein, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal stated that, "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."
APWU and its allies maintained the boycott and continued protests outside Staples stores across the country, expanding protest activity beyond the pilot program locations.
In February 2015, Staples announced its planned $5.5 billion merger with Office Depot. APWU became the largest public opponent of the merger. The union released two white papers critical of the Staples/Office Depot proposal and met with the Federal Trade Commission staff examining the merger. The FTC eventually blocked the merger.
The union also prevailed on a number of cases before the National Labor Relations Board, adding more pressure against the USPS/Staples deal.
“This is a big win,” said Dimondstein. “Staples is out of the mail business, which they should never have gotten into. Our members take great pride in their training and their responsibilities; they swear an oath; they perform a public service. The quality of service at a Staples store isn’t comparable. The public should have confidence in the mail. Important letters, packages and business correspondences shouldn’t be handled like a ream of blank paper.”
“This is also a win for those who care about the neighborhood post office,” he continued, “and for all those in our society who think that workers should earn a fair living wage with decent health care and a pension, rather than the Staples model of minimum wage, part-time hours and no benefits.”
The American Postal Workers Union represents 200,000 employees of the United States Postal Service, and is affiliated with the AFL-CIO. For more information on APWU, visit www.apwu.org.