NLRB stops U.S. Postal Service privatization scheme
Postal workers in Atlanta protest privatization scheme. Photo: David Goldman | AP

WASHINGTON – The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has squelched an attempt by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to privatize and contract out some of its services. NLRB Administrative Law Judge Paul Bogas ruled that USPS must immediately end its partnership with Staples in a scheme to take jobs away members of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU).

APWU had filed its complaint two years ago.

Among other things, Judge Bogas cited an internal USPS report, dated Sept. 12, 2012, that made it clear the goal of the expansion of its “retail partnerships” was to “[migrate the] majority of volume to retail partners (new & existing).” USPS had not disclosed this memo to the APWU “at any time prior to it being subpoenaed in this litigation.”

Judge Bogas stated that in hiding the memo from the union, the USPS had “illegally and intentionally” ignored its obligation under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to bargain with the APWU over the Staples deal and its effects on members of the union.

“It is clear from the Postal Service’s own documents and testimony the real goal for their ‘retail partnership’ program was to eliminate APWU members’ jobs and to close post offices,” said APWU President Mark Dimondstein.

Voluminous additional evidence was cited in the NLRB ruling showing that postal management had hidden their true intent, the privatization of postal retail operations, from the union. One document noted a USPS consultant’s question to Brian Code, then head of the USPS retail partnership program. The consultant asked whether they will “decrease [bargaining unit clerks] and will have to shut down post] offices to finance the program.”

Code replied, “You are right.”

Boycotting Staples

The Staples saga began in the fall of 2013 when the Postal Service instituted a pilot program that placed mini-post offices in more than 80 Staples stores in four geographic areas of the country. The APWU demanded that the postal counters in Staples stores be staffed by postal employees.

When the Postal Service refused, the union launched a Stop Staples campaign, featuring rallies and protests outside Staples stores that were aimed at educating consumers about the secretive, no-bid deal.

The APWU objected to the program because it “privatizes the retail operations of the public Postal Service; transfers living-wage, union jobs to low-wage jobs and compromises the safety and security of the U.S. mail,” the union wrote.

After months of protests, in April 2014, the union called for a boycott, urging consumers: Don’t Buy Staples!

The AFL-CIO endorsed the boycott and many labor organizations and other groups embraced it. The support of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association was critical, because school supplies account for approximately 30 percent of Staples’ revenue.

A Sneaky Maneuver

Just days after the AFT voted to endorse the boycott in July 2014, postal management and Staples announced an end to the pilot program, apparently expecting the APWU to end the Don’t Buy Staples movement.

But the union believed that the Postal Service and Staples were attempting to pull off a sneaky maneuver.

The union didn’t call off the protests.

The union was right. Staples and the Postal Service ended the “retail partnerships pilot project” alright. Then they immediately launched the “Approved Shipper” program. The principal difference was that the Approved Shipper program permitted Staples to sell the products of competitors, such as UPS, in addition to Postal Service products.

“This attempt at trickery shows that the Don’t Buy Staples movement is having an effect,” Dimondstein said at the time. “Staples and the USPS are changing the name of the program, without addressing the fundamental concerns of postal workers and postal customers.”

In response, the Postal Service upped the ante and began to expand the Approved Shipper program to all Staples stores – more than 1,000 of them – around the country.

The union then asked the NLRB to seek a preliminary injunction in court to force the Postal Service to cancel the Approved Shipper deal with Staples immediately.

Two weeks ago, about two years after it filed its complaint, the APWU won the case.

“It is clear we were right to challenge the Staples deal,” Dimondstein said. “It was the correct decision to mobilize our members and initiate the Stop Staples campaign and boycott.

“The Postal Service will probably appeal this decision, but we call on them to do the right thing and immediately end the Staples dirty deal,” Dimondstein continued.

Therefore, the union will continue its Stop Staples campaign, which is “a key part of the battle to maintain the public Postal Service from management’s privatization scheme,” Dimondstein said.

“… the Stop Staples campaign and boycott continues full speed ahead!

“The U.S. Mail is not for sale!”




The APWU (American Postal Workers Union) is the world's largest postal union, representing more than 200,000 USPS employees and retirees, and nearly 2,000 private-sector mail workers.