“Easy” Mail Service is Hard Pill for Workers to Swallow

by John Leddy

If you have ever been frustrated by not being able to purchase priority mail envelopes on a weekend or send a package from the post office after the national news, you may be a fan of the Staples pilot program the United States Postal Service (USPS) announced in October of 2013. As part of this collaborative pilot program between USPS and office supply giant Staples, Inc., consumers can now purchase select mail paraphernalia or send packages directly at 82 Staples stores across the nation. More information can be found here.

While the everyday consumer may have welcomed the pilot program due to general ease, the program has faced stark opposition from those who feel as though their jobs are being taken. Heavy opposition to the program’s implementation has come from the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO (APWU). While the pilot program does provide great exposure to mail products and delivery to consumers, members of the APWU see their primary role being diluted and their jobs being replaced by others. At participating Staples stores, the small USPS sections are manned by normal Staples employees, rather than Postal Workers. APWU argues that while the USPS continues to close stores and raise costs for consumers, the USPS is selling away the right to postal services to the nationwide chain in order to make a quick buck. By using the low-wage Staples employees, the USPS is able to circumvent union contracts and reduce costs. Not surprisingly, people are calling this a purely bottom-line motivated move, while members of the APWU continue to see their jobs and roles decrease. More information can be found here.

Recently, however, members of the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO (NALC) have come to support their brethren. NALC announced in late March that it would come to the aid of the Postal Workers and openly oppose the program. NALC has made the decision to jointly protest the decision by the USPS in order to protect the sanctity of the unions working for the USPS. The joint protests are aimed at the preservation of “six-day mail delivery service” from those who have been “highly trained” to provide such services to the public. It is a rather interesting, yet not too surprising decision by NALC to join with APWU. The unions are publicly advocating for the continued respect for collectively bargained contracts. By combining forces, the APWU and NALC show a stronger front in what could be a long battle.

There are talks that the program could be extended to 1,500 stores nationwide, so while the project continues to expand, the harm to be suffered by APWU could be strongly countered by the combined force of all those who work for the USPS. It should be interesting to see how the program develops and whether the unions’ efforts will pay off while the USPS scrambles to find a way to counter billions of dollars in debt.