They give Staples/P.O. deal stamp of disapproval

From left, John Dennie, Rosa Greene and Doris Leary decried the U.S. Postal Service’s putting postal counters in Staples stores.   Photo by Liza Béar

From left, John Dennie, Rosa Greene and Doris Leary decried the U.S. Postal Service’s putting postal counters in Staples stores. Photo by Liza Béar

BY LIZA B´EAR John Dennie, a member of National Postal Mail Handlers Union, Local 300, was recently handing out protest fliers outside the Staples store at Broadway and Eighth St. His blue T-shirt sported the slogans “Don’t Buy Staples” and “U.S. Mail Is Not For Sale.”

As Dennie explained it, “About a year before he retired, former Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe sold Staples on a deal to put fake post office counters inside 1,500 Staples stores across the country, staffed not with postal employees but with Staples employees who’ve received only four hours training. The postal service trains their clerks for 80 hours before they let them work the windows.”

Another protester, Shirley Dunaway, a postal worker retired for eight years, added: “We want Staples to denounce the contract U.S.PS. offered them to set up little mini-post offices inside, sell stamps and take in packages. We feel that Staples employees have no way to protect the public if someone sends in a letter bomb or a package containing chemicals. They have no technology to test the mail for those things.”

Dennie added, “It’s all part of a grand overall plan to privatize the post office. It’s not just Staples. They’re privatizing our over-the-road trucking routes by using nonunion freight haulers.”

Traditionally, all 600,000 U.S. Postal Service employees have belonged to one of four unions, and introducing nonunion workers has been a source of aggravation to union members. While U.S.P.S. employees are paid a living wage, with standards set by the unions, Staples employees are paid low or minimum wages.

There are other sources of concern.

“And they’re having mail processed in nonunion processing plants,” Dennie said. “Pitney Bowes is the biggest operator of these with 35 plants domestically. But in the meantime, U.S.P.S. is closing 82 of its own large processing plants this year alone. In 2012 they closed about 140 plants.”

Closure of processing plants has disastrous consequences for speed of mail delivery.

“In some closures, such as the one in Newburgh, N.Y.,” Dennie noted, “the mail has to be sent 125 miles away to Albany. For a letter going to the mid-Hudson Valley it’s a 450-mile roundtrip before delivery.”

But it gets worse.

“Albany can’t handle all the mail coming from the Newburgh plant,” Dennie said, “so they have to hand it off to Syracuse and Springfield, Mass. This is wreaking havoc with service standards. On Jan. 5 this year they did a terrible, rotten thing. They eliminated mail processing at night all over the country. Because of this, it’s taken as much as a week to get a first-class letter delivered.”

Currently, 20 Staples outlets in Manhattan already have postal counters. While no post offices have yet had to close because of the competition,  Dennie referred to consequences in other cities.

“In the Bay Area, where they rolled out the Staples program a year ago, they have cut hours at some of the San Francisco post offices,” he stated. “They put a sign in the window saying, ‘We’re no longer open till 5 p.m., only till 3 p.m. When we’re closed, you can conveniently go to Staples.’

“And they’re working on a deal to put post office counters in 2,000 Walmart stores,” he added.

“In the meantime,” Dennie concluded wryly, “our union, on the national level, is intervening in the attempt of Staples to merge with Office Depot. So we’re trying to throw a monkey wrench at them wherever we can.”

Since the U.S.P.S.-Staples deal went into effect, according to the union’s Web site, 170 Staples stores have gone out of business, indicating that the U.S. mail has been entrusted to a failing franchise.

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