April 25, 2014
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – The head of the largest local in the Area Postal Workers Union’s [APWU] New York District says that U.S. Postmaster Patrick Donahoe is not telling the truth about the expanding deal to turn over USPS duties to low-wage Staples employees staffing knock off postal counters around the country – and is, instead, trying to turn public opinion against dedicated postal employees.
“We manly blame Postmaster Patrick Donahoe because he lies,” NY Metro Area Postal Union President Jonathan Smith told LaborPress this week. “He said this is not about money, and that this is about giving more service to the American public. But when we went to the Department of Labor and got the documents – it clearly says this is about saving money.”
According to Smith, the internal USPS documents that the APWU obtained – and posted on its website – shows that the purpose of establishing USPS counters inside Staples office supply stores across the nation, is not to improve service – but to eliminate USPS workers and replace them with low-paying private sector hires.
The USPS has already begun to install postal counters inside more than 80 Staples stores around the country, and plans to increase that number to 1,500 outlets nationwide.
On Thursday, April 24, area workers representing mail handlers, as well as letter and rural carriers unions, joined with Smith and APWU members for a Midtown march and rally outside the Staples store located at 16 East 34th Street. The protest was part of a national day of action against the USPS-Staples pact, which took place in more than 50 cities in 27 states.
The head of NY Metro APWU Local 10 said that replacing postal employees with low-wage Staples hires represents a serious breech of the public’s trust.
“We’re not against this deal,” Smith said. “We’re against Staples workers working USPS mail. We’ve been highly trained to work this mail. When we come into the Postal Service, we make a pledge to protect the American public’s mail. We make a pledge to the American people that we take very seriously. But they’re taking away from the sanctity of the U.S. Mail. And when you undermine the work we do, we have a problem with that.”
In contrast, Smith charges that the USPS administrators are attempting to paint postal workers as the bad guys, and the source of everything that’s wrong with local post offices.
“The Postal service is purposely trying to frame the issue for the American public to make the postal worker look lazy and inefficient,” Smith said. “But they’re purposely understaffing these facilities where you’ve got the lines going outside the door. We know that it’s frustrating to the American people because it’s frustrating to us. When you’ve got eight windows in the station and they’ve only got two or three of them open, it’s not because we don’t want to work – it's because they refuse to staff properly.”
Although it’s financial status has somewhat improved lately, the USPS – an independent agency under Congressional control that does not benefit from tax dollars – routinely hemorrhages money. That’s largely due to a Congressional mandate requiring the USPS to annually pay $5.5 billion into a retiree health fund.
“The post office is losing money because back in 2006, Congress past a law requiring us to pre-fund retirees 75 years into the future,” Smith said. “There is no other business that can stand that kind of blow.”
In Smith’s view, postal management and its drive towards privatization is actually undermining the nation’s time-honored postal system.
“They’re trying to turn the American people against the postal worker when it’s not the workers, it’s bad management,” Smith said. “I have never seen a corporation that specializes in mail that works so hard not to improve the mail – but to give it away.”
In a statement, the USPS said that its “Retail Partner Expansion Program is an opportunity ‘to grow the business,’ and has never been an earmark to pave a way to privatization.”
Mike Suchomel, a 20-year postal worker from New Jersey said that he fears the Staples deal will, indeed, cost employees like him their jobs – and that the public will ultimately suffer as a result.
“When we come into the Post Office, we take an oath to protect the mail and the sanctity of the mail,” Suchomel said. “These Staples employees are only $9-an-hour, non-union workers. They’re there just to make sales.”
Next year brings a new round of contract negotiations, and Smith is concerned that USPS management is attempting to leverage the Staples deal to “erase” gains already made at the bargaining table.
“What we’re saying is, if you want to make major changes to the Postal Service, make then at the negotiating table,” Smith said. “Stop entering into these backdoor deals like your’e doing with Staples.”