Postal Service workers protest deal with Staples, other retailers
Ed Devey is unhappy with the ailing Postal Service because of a pilot program that allows Staples to perform limited post office business.
Devey, a 27-year Postal Service employee, was one of two dozen members of the American Postal Workers Union who protested on Thursday outside a Staples store on McKnight Road. The workers say the deal is a step toward privatizing the Postal Service and will cost them their jobs.
“I'm here to support the clerks; the people inside Staples are performing clerk-type work,” said Devey, 59, of West Mifflin. “They're using Staples as a privatization tool. And I believe they are looking for lower wages.”
Since October, the Postal Service has placed kiosks in 82 Staples stores in five states in what it called a retail partner expansion program, “the next logical step of providing expanded access to postal products and services.”
The Pittsburgh store was one of 50 locations in 27 states where the 200,000-member union planned rallies to protest what they say is a sweetheart deal for the retailer — and one that could lead to post office closings.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the program can help secure the long-term future of the Postal Service, which ended the 2013 fiscal year with a net loss of $5 billion, the seventh consecutive year of losses. It lost $15.9 billion in the 2012 budget year.
But the union argues that using “untrained” Staples clerks to handle postal transactions is not a good idea.
Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein said an internal Postal Service document makes clear that the goal of the program is to replace good jobs with low-wage private sector jobs. “We have built a high level of trust, and we swear to the sanctity of the mail, and they want to turn it over to untrained clerks,” said Charles Pugar, president of Local 81 of the Postal Workers Union. “It could lead to the demise of the Postal Service and erosion of our public trust.”
The Postal Service said Staples is the first “enterprise-level chain store” to participate in its program, which has 65,000 smaller locations around the country to increase access and convenience to customers in locations where they already shop. Some of those offer only stamps; others offer stamps, shipping services, international mailings and money orders.
“We're not against convenience, or generating revenue,” said Pugar, “but put a Postal Service employee in there. When you do it with a nationwide retailer like Staples, that takes it to a new level.”
In addition to the Pittsburgh area, where 16 stores have pilot sites, test markets are Atlanta, San Diego, San Francisco and Worcester, Mass. Locally, five stores are in Pittsburgh, with others in Cranberry, New Castle, Butler, Monica, Washington, Uniontown, Belle Vernon, Indiana, New Kensington and Greensburg.
The pilot will run through Sept. 30, when the Postal Service will decide on a full-scale launch, said spokeswoman Karen Mazurkiewicz.
Staples spokesman Mark Cautela said the office supply retailer “continually tests new products and services to better meet the needs of our customers.” He declined to give details of the Postal Service deal.
“Many people are outraged that a tremendous public asset is being turned over to a struggling private company,” Dimondstein said. Staples recently announced it would close 225 stores by 2015.
Kenneth Roberts, general manager of the Staples store on McKnight Road, declined to comment on the rally, except to say “they have the right to do what they are doing.”
The Postal Service blames its financial problems on falling mail volume, as a growing number of consumers pay their bills online and use email to send messages.
Mail, especially first class, declined by 54 billion pieces since 2006, Mazurkiewicz said. A 2006 law requires the Postal Service to pre-fund future retiree health benefits through 2015 at a rate of about $5.6 billion a year — a financial obligation that has contributed to its losses.
Donahoe has been trying to get Congress to pass legislation to help with its financial woes, including an end to Saturday mail delivery and reduced payments on retiree health benefits.
“The Postal Service must continue to adapt to the changing demands of our customers by locating postal services inside established businesses were customers save time, and in most cases have the convenience of longer hours than regular post offices,” Donahoe said.
John D. Oravecz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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