It’s unusual for a challenger to unseat an incumbent president in the postal workers’ union election, but Mark Dimondstein did exactly that. The onetime postal clerk from Greensboro, N.C., ousted former American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey by a comfortable margin in October’s vote, and now he wants to build public support for his effort to thwart U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s plan to downsize and reform the U.S. Postal Service.
The long grind of postal decline—the system has lost has more than 25 percent of its volume since 2008—has prompted Donahoe to seek new sales by opening mail centers inside Staples stores, among other changes. But the Staples outposts wouldn’t be staffed by union members. Dimondstein is plotting a “national day of action” on April 24 in a bid to scuttle the plan. Bloomberg Businessweek spoke with the new postal union chief recently about his opposition to expanded retail partnerships and the future of the post office. Here’s an edited and condensed version of our discussion:
What’s the key thing you’re trying to do as union president?
My main goal is to build what I call a grand alliance with the people of this country to defend and save their postal service—their public postal service—and to have enhanced services like postal banking, longer hours, and more employees in post offices so that the lines aren’t too long. We have all these allies, whether they are seniors, retirees, civil rights leaders, veterans, the rest of the labor movement. What’s been been missing in our past efforts is we haven’t gone to the people of this country and said we want to work with you to make sure that this postal service is vibrant for generations to come.
The management of the U.S. Postal Service says it want to provide new services, too.
They are shortening hours of operations in post offices. They’re not staffing the post office properly, so there are long lines. The postal service has also made a deal with Staples to put post offices in Staples stores. Then the post office is saying: “See, we just want to have the customers have easier access.” The problem with that is, it’s taking good, living-wage jobs and putting them into the private-sector side. These people aren’t postal workers. They aren’t trained to protect the sanctity, security, and privacy of the mail.
Isn’t foot traffic going down in traditional post offices around the country?
I actually don’t know the answer to that question. (Editor’s Note: According to the USPS, annual customer visits to post offices declined (pdf) 27 percent between 2005 and 2011, from 1.28 billion to 930 million.)
The postmaster general says he’s not trying to privatize the postal service. Why don’t you take him at his word?
If he means he’s not seeking legislation to privatize the postal service in one fell swoop, then he’s right. But it’s being slowly privatized piece by piece. There’s no other legitimate way to understand what’s happening with their effort at Staples. We’re not closed-minded. This is a test program. We’re OK with the test as long as those services are provided by United States Postal employees.
One of the top people at the APWU recently said the union doesn’t like sales of stamps in supermarkets, either. Is that something you’re likely to do away with, too? Isn’t it convenient for customers to be able to buy stamps in other places besides the post office?
Our goal is not to shut down stamp sales at the giant supermarkets now, but we definitely object to putting post offices in privately run stores—especially when they’re not staffed by postal workers.