April 28, 2014
By Beth Borzone
Farmingdale, NY – Emblazoned with signs stating, “Stop Staples: The U.S. Mail is Not for Sale,” over 100 postal workers protested in front of Staples expressing their concerns that the a recent deal between the U.S. Postal Service and Staples could hurt local economies, cost communities their local post office, and decrease the quality of mail service to citizens.
The protesting workers were members of a coalition of four postal unions that have formed an alliance called The Postal Union Alliance, according to Kevin Tabarus, Treasurer of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union.
The National Association of Letter Carriers, American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, National Postal Mail Handlers, and the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association formed the Alliance back in March as a defense against what they saw as an “unprecedented attack” on the U.S. Postal Service. According to the website of the American Postal Workers Union, “Corporate privatizers seek to gain control over larger segments of postal operations – and to get their hands on the Postal Service’s $65 billion of annual revenue.”
The agreement between Staples and the U.S. Postal Service is really “a long, round about way to privatize the postal service,” said Pete Furgiuele, President of the Long Island New York Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, while standing in front of a twelve foot inflated rat near the entrance of the parking lot to Staples.
“We’re here today to protest the underhanded agreement between the United States Postal Service and Staples, Incorporated, which establishes 82 Staples stores having postal counters staffed by Staples employees who earn minimum wage and no benefits. These Staples employees take no oath to service and all U.S. Postal workers are sworn in to provide the best possible service to the American people,” Furgiuele said, adding, “…we don’t mind counters being in their stores, but we want them staffed by members of the United States Postal Service.”
In addition to reducing the quality of postal service, Furgiuele fears the current agreement could leave some communities without a post office, because if Staples counters replace post offices in smaller communities, those counters could be lost if the Staples stores eventually close down. “Recently, Staples has closed down 225 stores nationwide,” he said.
Roger Clayman, Executive Director of the Long Island Federation of Labor, expressed concerns about the impact the agreement would have on local economies, particularly in smaller communities.
“When you turn good jobs into minimum wage jobs, you drive the standard of the local economy downward, because the purchasing power of the members of the community is reduced, which hurts the economy,” Clayman said.
Particularly frustrating for Furgiulele and Walter Barton, President of the Long Island Merged Branch 600, National Association of Letter Carriers, is their belief that the financial crisis of the U.S. Postal System is in actual fact manufactured by Congress, forcing cost reductions that otherwise might not be necessary.
“In 2006, Legislation was passed called the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which requires the postal service to prefund future employees’ health benefits for the next 75 years, and the total payment must be made by the Postal Service from 2006 to 2016, thus costing the Postal Service, every October first, $5.5 to $7 billion per year. No other private company or government agency is forced such a burden of payments. No other company could succeed in making such payments. Had it not been for this burden, the postal service over the last two and a half years would have made $650 million. This requirement has totally crippled us and the Postal Service is using this as an excuse to reduce services and is threatening to sell off valuable assets of the postal system,” Furgiuele explained.
“Congress caused this (financial crisis) to happen and they could stop it, “Barton agreed.
Barton also urged keeping six-day mail delivery and not reducing delivery to five days, which the Postal Service is threatening to do.
In addition to protesting, Tabarus stated that his local has already started boycotting Staples. “Nobody’s buying office supplies from Staples from Local 300. There’s lots of other places to shop,” he said.
Furgiuele said that he would also be asking the help of the teachers’ union. “We’re calling on the teachers’ union to also boycott Staples because of their power to buy school supplies for their students.”
“In every town across America, there is a fire department, a police department, a church, hospital, school, and a post office. We are part of the fabric that holds this country together,” Furiuele said, noting the importance of the U.S. Postal System.