Judge to hear case against USPS deal with Staples

WASHINGTON – The Postal Workers’ long-running battle with U.S. Postal Service management over the service’s Staples subcontracting scheme is headed towards a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge’s hearing.

That’s because the agency’s General Counsel, its top enforcement officer, filed a complaint, based on evidence from APWU about both the Staples scheme and the union’s contract with USPS, against the Postal Service.

A hearing on the issue will open on Aug. 17 in D.C., the general counsel’s notice says. It says USPS broke labor law with the Staples scheme.

The notice says USPS broke the APWU contract by employing the Staples people to do bargaining unit work – postal services. It also broke the pact by failing to provide APWU with information it needed about the Staples scheme and by failing to bargain over the issue. USPS now calls its Staples scheme the “Approved Shipper Program.”

The general counsel wants the NLRB’s administrative law judge, who will hear the case, to order all bargaining unit work to be returned to the APWU, as it was before last July 31, and as the contract between USPS and the 200,000-member union provides. APWU also wants the NLRB to go to court for an injunction to halt the Staples scheme.

The general counsel’s filing is important because the former Postmaster General, as part of his campaign to cut costs – and what he said is red ink-subcontracted out postal services to Staples, a non-union, minimum-wage company.

His aim was to eventually replace well-paid middle-class union jobs with low-paid part-time non-unionists at the Staples stores, in essence privatizing the Postal Service.

That scheme led to a national campaign, by the Postal Workers, the Letter Carriers, the Rural Letter Carriers, the Mail Handlers/Laborers, other unions and community allies, against the USPS privatization plan and job cuts.

“If the NLRB sustains the allegations in the complaint, it could effectively end Staples’ foray into the mail business,” the union said.

“In the meantime, the boycott of Staples and its online subsidiary, Quill.com, is still on,” APWU President Mark Dimondstein declared. “Let’s turn up the heat!” on the union’s “Stop Staples!” campaign, he added.

“This represents an important step forward in the battle against the privatization of our nation’s public Postal Service. But it is not simply the result of strong legal arguments,” he said. “Every APWU member and supporter who passed out flyers outside Staples stores can claim a piece of this achievement.”

The general counsel said that around July 7, 2014, the Postal Service broke the contract by “subcontracting work to Staples without adhering to the agreed-upon protocol” in the contract’s clause covering subcontracting. That clause includes wages, hours and working conditions for subcontracted workers.

All are ways that Staples workers lag far behind Postal Workers and all are mandatory subjects that a firm – in this case, USPS – must bargain with the union about.

“Respondent (the Postal Service) has been failing and refusing to bargain collectively and in good faith with the exclusive collective bargaining representative of the employees,” the APWU, the general counsel said. And USPS “modified the terms of an effective collective bargaining agreement without the consent of the union,” thus also breaking labor law.

Photo: In this April 2014 picture, postal workers protest Staples’ subcontracting scheme.  |   Ned Davis/APWU Local 72


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.