Cleveland workers protest Staples post office counters

MAYFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio-Dozens of postal workers, joined by union activists, held a rally outside a Staples store in suburban Cleveland Thursday to protest what many believe to be a union-busting deal between the public U.S. Postal Service and the private office-supplies retail chain.

The Postal Service, in collusion with Staples, has set up U.S. mail service counters in 82 stores throughout the country. The workers at those counters are non-union Staples employees, not union postal workers.

The American Postal Workers Union, one of the unions representing postal workers, sees the deal with Staples as a move to bust the union and privatize the federal post office.

“The public post office is for the public,” Daleo Freeman, president of the Cleveland-area APWU, Local 72, said during the rally. “We’re not against the post office expanding its business, but we want to be included in any deals. This is all designed as union busting.”.

Led by blaring bull horns, more than 60 people, wearing “Stop Staples” t-shirts, shouted battle cries of “The U.S. Mail Is Not For Sale!” and “Union Busting We Say No, Staples Deal Has Got To Go!”

Motorists along the busy four-lane street honked horns and gave the group thumbs-up signs. The rally was joined by politicians and members of other unions.

“This is our fight too,” said Bill Barnes, Executive Vice President of the Cleveland area National Association of Letter Carriers union. “We’re all brothers and sisters in the cause for fair wages, safe working conditions and good benefits. That’s what makes America strong.”

Two Democratic candidates for the Ohio House of Representatives, Michael Houser and Jill Zimon, showed up to support the union, as did Democratic state Rep. Ken Yuko who pulled out his wallet-size union membership book from his days with the Laborers’ union and held it high to the crowd. “This is my union book,” Yuko shouted. “And you know when they can have my union book? When they pry it from my cold, dead hands. “These are our jobs,” he continued. “And we’re not going to give them up. You know why? Because we’re union.”

The state representative ended his fiery speech with, “I’m not going to stand behind you. I’m going to lead the charge.”

The union notes that postal workers, unlike Staples workers, take an oath of office, go through stringent training and background checks and are strictly monitored on the job, all of which are protective measures that guarantee the security of the public’s letters and packages.

Mark Cautela, senior public relations manager at Staples, said he could not speak to the union’s concerns and referred questions to the Postal Service.

Postal Service spokeswoman Darleen Reid of Washington, D.C., issued a prepared statement the day of the rally, saying the arrangement with Staples is for customer convenience.

She said the arrangement “is an opportunity to ‘grow the business’ and has never been an earmark to pave a way to privatization.”

“The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations,” Reid said in her email statement. “This retail partnership program could be an innovative step towards generating revenue to ensure the long-term viability of the Postal Service.”

Local 72 President Freeman said, “Taking the work of the pubic U.S. Postal Service and turning it over to a private, for-profit business is privatization. Taking living-wage jobs and replacing them with low-wage jobs like the ones Staples offers is privatization.”

“We’re out here to inform the public what’s going on,” he said. “The people have the right to know what is happening to their post office.”

Photo: Ned Davis, photographer for APWU Local 72.