Customers entering a Staples today to buy a packet of computer paper may be surprised to find they have to cross a picket line of US Postal workers first. The employees are protesting the launch of postal services at Staples counters they say will put them out of work.
Thousands of postal employees across the country are expected to rally Thursday at 50 locations in 27 states, with actions planned in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
Mail services have been offered at Staples for a year under a pilot program that expanded to 80 stores. USPS service have also been available at other retail locations, but the office supply chain is its first enterprise-level foray.
USPS spokeswoman Darlee Reid-DeMeo said the mail service was conducting the pilot program, "In direct response to the changing expectations of customers who demand greater convenience and a one-stop shopping experience."
Staples said it was trying out the partnership to better meet its customer needs. "We are currently operating a pilot program in select stores that is testing specific services and offering added convenience for our customers," said Staples spokeswoman Kristine Houston.
The workers are worried that well-paid union jobs will go to low-wage nonunion workers. The union pointed to an internal USPS memo that said shifting some operations to retail locations would cut costs by a third and speed transactions.
The union says postal workers, "have taken an oath to protect the sanctity of the mail," while the retail workers haven't.
“Staples makes business decisions based on the bottom line, not service to the people of the country,” American Postal Workers Union president Mark Dimondstein said. "Are we going to have a vibrant, modern, public mail system that serves all of the people, or are we going to let privatizers kill this great institution?"
USPS's Reid-DeMeo said the program was about ensuring the Postal Service's future, "and has never been an earmark to pave a way to privatization."
Last month Staples announced it was closing 225 stores by 2015 following struggling sales.