U.S. Postal Service employees from the Twin Cities rallied with supporters April 24 outside a Staples store in Roseville, part of a nationwide day of action opposing plans to put USPS service counters inside Staples locations across the country.
Already, 82 Staples stores in Georgia, California, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts house USPS service counters, and postal administrators hope to expand to other locations – and, potentially, other retail chains – if the pilot program is successful.
But union members at the rally decried the pilot program as a privatization scheme that threatens middle-class jobs and undermines the security of the mail.
All four unions representing USPS workers – the American Postal Workers Union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, the National Postal Mail Handlers and the Rural Letter Carriers – are united in opposition to the program.
“For a while we splintered, but we’re standing together on this,” said Dan Garhofer, president of St. Paul-based Branch 28 of the Letter Carriers.
“If you pick on one of us, you get all of us,” added Mike Zagaros, president of Branch 9 in Minneapolis. “That’s what unions are all about.”
Increased access – at a cost
The Staples plan won support from Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe as a way to increase public access to postal services, but postal union members raised several objections at the rally.
Allowing Staples employees to do postal work, they said, undermines the security of the mail. Uniformed postal workers swear an oath to protect the safety and security of the mail. They must pass a background check before being hired, and, once on the job, they go through trainings that equip them to uphold their oath.
Additionally, workers say the pilot program threatens USPS jobs, which offer middle-class wages and benefits, in favor of low-wage, high-turnover jobs like the ones at Staples.
“This is an attack on the postal unions,” Zagaros said. “This is an attack on the middle class. This is an attack on good-paying jobs.”
Ellison called the Postal Service “the great American melting pot” when it comes to providing middle-class employment, and he noted its commitment to hiring military veterans upon their re-entry into the workforce.
The strong turnout, Ellison added, was proof postal workers are not alone in the fight to stop Staples. “May America always stand with the post office,” Ellison said. “You are not alone. We are with you. Do not put our mail up for sale.”
“We want the profits from the Postal Service to go back into the Postal Service, not some CEO’s pocket,” Minnesota Nurses Association President Linda Hamilton said.
Added Eliot Seide, director of Council 5 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: “Staples can sell paperclips, but they can’t sell the mail. We won’t stop until Staples gives up its claim, and the mail is handled by professional postal employees.”