Post Office Privatization Deal in the Works: Activists Take to the Streets

“U.S. mail is not for sale!” This was the hard-hitting message of hundreds of local activists who joined forces across the country in a national day of action protesting a privatization deal between the U.S. Postal Services and Staples.  

The USPS pilot program establishing unsecured postal counters in more than 80 Staples stores in four geographic areas began late last year.  

In response, American Postal Workers Union (APWU) members and associates rallied outside Staples stores around the country demanding an end to the deal which they say is aimed at replacing good, living-wage postal jobs with low-wage, high-turnover jobs filled with untrained Staples employees.  They say it may eventually lead to layoffs and the closing of post offices.

In New York, members of the New York Metro Area Postal Workers Union (APWU) joined forces outside the 5th Avenue Staples store to deliver a clear message to the American people:

“What we’re trying to do is send a message to the U.S. Postal Service and Staples that the U.S. mail is not for sale,” Jonathan Smith, president of the New York APWU who led the New York charge explained to AlterNet. “We will not allow them to hire employees with no minimum wage, with no benefits and who are not trained to do the job properly.  With all the concern about privacy and identity theft, that’s just not the right way to handle the U.S. mail.  The mail needs to be handled by experienced postal employees who swear an oath and who are accountable to the American people. This is a disservice to the American people and the constitution,” he said.

While Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has denied the USPS-Staples scheme is privatization, the APWU recently obtained a copy of the heavily redacted USPS agreement, which reveals the true goal of the program is to replace jobs held by USPS employees with low-wage jobs in the private sector, as well as expand the program to 1,500 Staples stores nationwide.

Smith explained to AlterNet how this directly comprises the quality, security and reliability that consumers expect and deserve in the handling of their mail as the struggling U.S postal service looks for ways to cut costs and boost revenue.

“Donahoe is trying to turn the postal service into a for-profit organization. We are here to tell the American people that we will not allow the Postal Service to take our work away and give it to people that are not trained. We are the 99 percent and if we don't fight for our rights, they will take it away.”

Likewise, Bobby Blum, Vice President of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union spoke of the importance of unions to join together in postal alliance to fight against global corporations and privatization. 

 “We’re here today to stop the transfer of middle-class jobs to low-wage jobs and to stop the transfer of union jobs to non-union jobs,” he said. “We stand shoulder to shoulder to stop the privatization of the people’s postal service.   The CEO of Staples averages a $15 million a year salary, while the average Staples employee makes less than $9 an hour…We must stand together to fight. We can’t let postal employment go to the corporate elite and the cronies in congress dismantle the people’s service.  An injury to one is an injury to all – we stand with you today and say, ‘Stop staples! Stop staples now!” he said.

Fuelling further outage is the recent Staples announcement that it will close 225 stores by 2015, which has many furious employees wondering how such an important public asset could be turned over to a struggling private company, as Times Square postal worker Diane Erlanger explained to AlterNet at the protest.

“This is a service not a business and it's a constitutional right to serve the American public. As a sales service associate, I’ve taken an oath to protect the mail, we all have.  I take my job very seriously. My mother was a postal worker so I’m very proud to follow in her footsteps. And it means a lot to me.”

“Congress and Donahoe have in their mind that this should go private, it should become a business but this wasn't the intention of the creators of the post office – it was to serve the American public, not the American corporations, not greed. Donahoe has sold out all of his people. I’m going to fight and I’m happy we have this proclamation where all the unions are in this together because it trickles down. This is an attack on unions despite the fact this country was built on unions,” she said.

Postal employee and protestor Tom Mcmenany agrees: “We’re losing good paying jobs in the community. We need more good paying jobs with health benefits.  You see the way the economy is now. The post office is going out of its way to get away from paying people.  Staples is known to pay below minimum wage with no benefits, and it's not good for the community as a whole,” he told AlterNet.

“Donahoe can tell us whatever he wants.  This is not some pilot project.  This is privatization at its worst.  The public has to realize this,” another protestor proclaimed.

But Jonathan Smith says this isn’t just about the workers, it's about the entire service promised to the American public: “Today we march, we march for justice, we march for the elderly woman or senior citizen that comes to the post office to get her medicine safely, we march for the small business owner that can’t compete with these big conglomerates.  This is about a promise we made to the American people that no matter where you are, you can get a package at a reasonable price.  Privatization…this is what this deal is about, it’s about greed, it’s about big business and so we say enough is enough! We’re not going to give it away without a fight,” he said.

As for the public, recent research has shown that consumers have high regard for postal employees and are skeptical about the Staples deal with many postal customers uncomfortable with co-location of post offices not staffed by USPS employees at the Staples store, DM News reported.

Thursday’s demonstration follows dozens of protests by workers in more than 50 cities across 27 States including Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco, since January.  The protests are set to be the first of many actions by postal workers – joined by teachers – to boycott Staples. 

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