Members of the American Postal Workers Union are launching protests Thursday in 27 states to decry a partnership between the U.S. Postal Service and office supply company Staples Inc. to run postal counters at its retail stores.
The agreement between the Postal Service and Staples, announced in November, created a pilot program to operate 82 postal counters at Staples locations across the country. The quick-service counters will be staffed by Staples employees.
Organizers plan to demonstrate at a Staples location in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, one of four protests planned in California. Of the 82, locations, 32 are in California; none are in Los Angeles.
The postal workers union leadership have criticized the program, saying it will pave the way for privatization of post office jobs, a charge Postal Service officials deny.
It is "taking away good, stable jobs and replacing them with low-wage, high-turnover jobs," Mike Evans, the union's California president, said in a statement. "That's bad for postal workers and it's bad for our communities.
"Staples employees receive minimal training. With all the concern about privacy and identity theft, that's just not the right way to handle the U.S. mail. Highly trained, experienced postal employees, who swear an oath to protect your letters and packages and who are accountable to the American people, should handle mail. This program is compromising service to our customers."
The U.S. Postal Service, however, denies that the partnership will lead to privatization and said it is merely accommodating consumers' preferences.
"Partnerships like this are not new and are all about growing our business," said Richard Maher, a Postal Service spokesman. "The unions' privatization issue is a ruse, we have no interest in privatizing the Postal Service."
The pilot program is intended to offer basic shipping services at counters at Staples retail stores.
"This pilot partnership with Staples is a win-win situation," Maher said. "It provides customers choices on where and when they can buy the most frequently purchased postal products and services ... and helps secure the long-term future of the Postal Service."