In November, the financially troubled U.S. Postal Service unveiled a plan to open 84 post offices in Staples stores around the country. The agency says this is part of its “retail expansion.” But it’s really about cutting costs: The Staples’ outlets won’t be staffed by USPS clerks, who are union members.
Mark Dimondstein, the recently elected president of the American Postal Workers Union, is pushing back hard. “This is a direct assault on our jobs and on public postal services,” Dimondstein said on Nov. 26. “The APWU supports the expansion of postal services. But we are adamantly opposed to USPS plans to replace good-paying union jobs with non-union low-wage jobs held by workers who have no accountability for the safety and security of the mail.”
Dimondstein’s objections are understandable. The USPS-Staples partnership isn’t good news for his members. Unfortunately, this is something the postal service must do. About 78 percent of its costs are personnel-related. As mail volume declines, it needs fewer employees. It also has to cut costs so it has money to cover the pricey health benefits of its present and future retirees.
Rather than simply closing post offices and leaving people without service, the USPS has been opening post offices in local stores and coffee houses in rural areas. The Staples deal would enable the agency to do the same in less remote areas at a lower cost. This approach has worked well in counties like Sweden and Germany. Customers were unhappy about it initially, but they got over it.
These countries worked closely with postal unions to train their members for new jobs. The U.S. Postal Service probably doesn’t have the budget for that now—it lost $5 billion in fiscal 2013. Instead, this is something Congress should address as part of any pending postal reform bill.
It’s also something that U.S. postal union officials need to discuss more candidly with their members. Dimonstein says he’ll pressure Staples to hire his members. “We will begin preparing for protests at Staples stores across the country,” he said. That may please his members temporarily. But ultimately the USPS’s survival depends on doing even more deals like this one.