USPS, Staples partnership criticized

Gilroy Post Office

Postal workers in Santa Clara County are expressing discontent with a contracted partnership between the U.S. Postal Service and Staples, where USPS products and services are offered at Staples stores across the country.
Eighty-two Staples stores—including one in San Jose—are participating in a pilot program to test the feasibility and profitability of the partnership. If the pilot program—around for less than a year—continues to prove successful by the end of September, it could be rolled out in more stores nationwide, USPS Spokesman Augustine Ruiz Jr. said.
But some postal employees and union organizers said they feel exiled to the sidelines as they watch their jobs shift to the private sector where employees are paid less and could eventually make the post offices themselves obsolete.
American Postal Workers’ Union and the two other postal employee unions have held six protests in the South Bay this year and planned a seventh at the Gilroy Staples this week, according to APWU Organizer and Clerk at a San Jose USPS distribution center Clerk Robert Laney.
According to Ruiz, the partnership with Staples makes business sense for both organizations and provides more options for post office customers, at locations where they already purchase most of their office supplies and during a broader range of hours.
“It’s the perfect partnership,” Ruiz said. “The marketplace has changed, and we have to change with it. We need to press as many options as possible to reach our customer that is convenient for them.”
With decreased foot traffic making its way through the doors of post offices across the country, Ruiz said, offering USPS products and services within the walls of former competitors will help brighten its financial future.
For nearly a decade, the USPS has already established partnerships with more than 65,000 different retailers to provide alternative ways to access their products and services, he added.
“The Staples pilot program is simply next step in the retail partnership expansion to provide postal products and services where our customers live, work and shop,” Ruiz said.
Laney said all three postal worker unions have come together to fight the program, viewed by labor organizers as the USPS essentially “outsourcing” its labor to the private sector.
“We’re not against expansion or creating revenue, but we feel this is leaning toward the privatization of the U.S. Postal Service,” he said. “If you go into a post office and there’s a long line, people say ‘they should have more window clerks and get this line moving.’ We’d agree with you and we feel (understaffing) is being done deliberately to show there’s another option—the Staples store down the street.”
He countered that USPS employees go through rigorous training, are sworn to protect the mail, go through a 90-day probation period and are paid a “living wage,” whereas Staples employees typically start at minimum wage.
At Staples stores throughout the Bay area, Laney says union members will continue to sport T-shirts and carry signs reading “the U.S. Mail is not for sale,” as a way to protest what he calls a backroom deal—one that excluded the participation of all three unions.
“We see it as a direct threat to our livelihoods,” Laney said.