APWU: Staples Deal Still a Secret — But Hearing Reveals Disturbing Truths

APWU Web News Article #061-14, April 7, 2014

The Postal Service and Staples are working overtime to keep the details of their sweetheart deal a secret, but a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board — and documents the USPS was forced to provide to the APWU — have revealed some disturbing truths.

“Staples and postal management are perpetrating a fraud on the American people,” said Clint Burelson, APWU Clerk Craft director. “They are promoting the deal as though taking your mail to Staples is the same as taking it to the Post Office.

“It’s not,” he said.

The 58-page agreement between the USPS and Staples [PDF], which management provided to the APWU in response to the union’s Unfair Labor Practice charge [PDF] , exposes some of the risk to customers, he said.

The page above is typical of about half of the pages in the copy of the agreement that was provided to the union.

“But it hides more than it illuminates. The secret deal is still a secret.” Most of the significant details in the Approved Postal Provider Pilot Agreement are redacted.

“The Postal Service belongs to the people of the country,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein. “What are they hiding? And how can they justify operating in the dark?”

‘Thoroughly Dishonest’

The hearing exposed how thoroughly dishonest Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has been about the purpose of the deal, said Burelson, who testified about the union’s request for information about the program.

In a Jan. 19 Associated Press article, Donahoe rejected the union’s claim that the program constitutes privatization. He is quoted as saying, “The privatization discussion is a ruse. We have no interest in privatizing the Postal Service.”

But a December 2012 internal USPS document that was presented at the hearing shows that management is indeed seeking to privatize window clerk duties. The Approved Shipper Plus Pilot Program Memo says,

“The pilot will be used to determine if lower costs can be realized with retail partner labor instead of the labor traditionally associated with retail windows at Post Offices…

“Transferring USPS product and service transactions to retail partner locations should allow USPS to cut costs associated with window labor time and credit card transaction fees. Initial analysis suggests that Retail Partners can sell USPS products and services at a projected cost-to-serve of $0.16 per revenue dollar, which is less than a third of the cost-to-serve observed at traditional Post Offices.”

Smoking Gun

“That’s the smoking gun,” Burelson said. “Clear away the ‘management-speak’ and the message is clear: The Staples deal is intended to sidestep USPS labor costs by transferring window duties to private businesses. Management’s internal document admits it.

“That’s privatization,” he said.

“I hope every postal worker understands exactly how serious the threat is – to our jobs and to the United States Postal Service as a public institution,” President Dimondstein added. “We have to make sure the American people understand as well.”

The Staples “pilot program” is just the beginning, he pointed out. The Jan. 19 Associated Press article also quotes Donahoe as saying he’d like to see post office counters in every Staples store “as soon as possible.”

And it’s not just Staples. The Approved Shipper program “aims to establish USPS customer access points in leading national and regional retailer’s store locations nationwide.”

Following a Pattern

At the hearing, USPS witness Brian Code testified that the Retail Partner Expansion Program, which Staples is part of, had been in development at least since 2011, when he joined the Retail Alliances Department.

According to Code, postal executives studied postal retail trends in Germany, Great Britain, Sweden, Australia, Canada and other countries, and used them as models for the program.

What do those countries’ mail systems have in common? Their retail operations are largely privatized. According to a 2011 report [PDF] by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), postal retail operations were privately owned and operated, as shown below.

Germany 98%
Sweden 88%
Australia 81%
Canada 39%

(Great Britain’s Royal Mail, which is mostly privatized, was not included in the GAO study. A March 25 article in the Huffington Post reported that the British mail agency has eliminated 1,600 jobs; increased the price of stamps by 35 percent; sold postal data into private hands, and granted the company’s boss a pay raise of 1.5 million pounds.)

A Rude Awakening

Some of the more startling admissions at the hearing should make customers think twice before turning over their mail to Staples, Burelson said. “Customers who take their mail to Staples stores are putting it in jeopardy.”

Packages dropped off at Staples stores will be placed in unsecured containers, he pointed out, and, as the Approved Postal Provider Agreement notes, packages and letters at Staples stores are not considered “mail” until they are picked up by the Postal Service. “That means they don’t enjoy the protection of the U.S. Mail,” Burelson said.

The 58-page agreement reveals Staples is getting a discount on postal products, he pointed out, but customers will pay full price. The amount of the discount is redacted.

Code testified that Staples’ low-wage employees get just four hours of “classroom” training for postal retail duties, Burelson noted.

Postal retail clerks receive 32 hours of intense classroom training, followed by 40 hours of on-the-job training alongside experienced window clerks. And postal workers must pass a test before they are considered qualified to work the window, he said.

“It takes a long time to learn all the intricacies necessary to provide expert customer service: the postage needed for various classes of mail and for mail of various sizes and shapes; how quickly letters and packages can be expected to arrive at their destination; how to screen for hazardous material that shouldn’t be mailed, etc.,” he said.

“Management claims this program is about customer convenience,” Burelson said. “If that were true, they would insist on staffing the postal counters at Staples with highly-trained, experienced window clerks, who have sworn an oath and are accountable to the people. If it were about customer convenience, the Postal Service would keep existing post offices open longer and would staff post offices with enough employees to avoid long lines.”

The April 1 hearing was the result an Unfair Labor Practice charge filed by the APWU when postal management refused to provide information about the deal that established “postal” counters in more than 80 Staples stores — staffed with low-wages Staples employees.

Administrative Law Judge Eric M Fine, who presided over the hearing, set May 5 as the deadline for the union and management to submit briefs.

  • Fed up

    APWU stop misleading the public. Contract stations have been part of the Postal Service since the 1970s. There in drug stores, general stores etc.; all over the country. You accuse management of not following the contract but it’s OK for you to fight something that is clearly in the contract. File a grievance like the contract says so an arbitrator can you you’re full of BS.

    • CC

      Well, what a well-written and inspirational comment, Fed up.

    • vinny

      Excellent points.

  • Stellar Steve the Window Tech

    It is too bad it has taken this long to pursue the Contract Station issue, which has been around for decades, but only recently has been in the “full service” mode that is prevalent with Staples and other outlets. The PO is allowing these non-postal stations to do all postal functions, and like the article says, without proper training, and without having dedicated postal employees. In the PO, working the window is a pass or fail job, while in non-postal sites, any schmuck can work the postal window, and not be personally accountable for transactions as true postal employees are. Where has the good old “sanctity of the mail” gone, when we have non-postal people selling and sorting the mail, which as the story says, is not truly mail until it actually enters the USPS facility itself. As a window clerk, I see more and more contracted out facilities, yet we at the true postal window get only the “problem customers” and the ones who are angry about service they receive at these contracted post offices. The PO is out to privatize the place, no matter what they say, and the sad part is that postal managers think that they will have a place in the place if that happens…highly unlikely! Who would want to hire managers for a business when these same lunkheads helped destroy their own business?

    • Mailman

      Donawhore and management at the top already have the years in and have set themselves up financially with big “deferred bonus’s even if they were all removed by the BOG,which should happen,but won’t, and expect to rewarded with cushy positions with UPS upon retirement for doing an excellent job of destroying the Postal Service and setting it up for UPS to take over the profitable parts.

  • RT Tracking

    I’ve been following this dispute very closely. The main issue was “why is the Staples deal different than CPU or VPOs”. USPS HQ responded that they are “expanding” access points to Staples location and taking over from previous UPS – Staples deal. Now I’m getting convinced by APWU that this is indeed different than your regular CPU/VPO. The USPS shouldn’t be focusing on more access points staffed by non-postal employees. They should concentrate on LPO operations and that requires staffing our operations properly. Mr. Donahoe … pull the plug on Staples and expand post office services. Either that, or Staples will pull the plug on you. Why do you think UPS dropped Staples to begin with?