Members of the American Postal Workers Union protest Staples on Friday, January 30, 2015.
By Allen Payton
Holding signs that read “Don’t Buy Staples” and “The U.S. Mail is NOT for Sale” members of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) were protesting in front of the Antioch Staples store, on Friday, January 30, as part of an ongoing effort to stop the office products chain from handling mail.
“We are here to protest the partnership with Staples without postal workers behind the counters providing mail service,” said Alan Menjivar the Lead Stop Staples Organizer.
“They are Staples employees without training, nor sworn to safeguard the mail and provide proper mail services,” he added
Postal workers are required to take 40 hours of classroom and 32 hours of on-the-job training to be qualified for the job.
“We’ve been protesting for a whole year after they started a pilot program for six months,” Menjivar said. “Then they changed to an approved shipper program to confuse the American people. But they’re still doing the same thing.”
This is about the 20th time they’ve protested at the Antioch Staples store. The workers at the protest are from all over the Bay Area.
“They’re here about every other week,” said Staples Store Manager Toreano Norris. But, that was all he could share, as he is not authorized to speak for the company.
Members of the Antioch Chamber of Commerce joined Staples store staff for a ribbon cutting for the new postal service on November 18, 2013.
Announced in November, 2013, Staples began a pilot program in 80 stores, for an exclusive shipping agreement with the U.S. Postal Service.
The union warned Staples in a letter from the APWU President, in January, 2014 after the program was implemented.
“But they ignored the letter,” Menjivar said. “So the protests began that same month.”
However, once the protests started, which included rallying their troops and enlisting the support of a couple teachers unions, Staples canceled the pilot program. All they do now is the same thing done at other stores, such as UPS stores, Postal Annex, Parcel Plus, and even Chevron gas stations, as well other office supply stores.
Now, it’s a national boycott. So, the protesters were attempting to get patrons from doing business at the Staples store. But, it didn’t appear to have any affect, as customers came and went, without any turning away.
Customers inside the store commented on the protest.
“It’s the unions. It’s just something they have to do to protect their benefits and their jobs. They have a very strong union. My wife worked for AT&T. She did the same thing for 35 years, with a protest every year,” said Joe Biernacki who lives in Pittsburg. “I like Staples and have been shopping here for years. That won’t stop me at all. I’m a union supporter. But no one’s going to stop me from getting my business done.”
“I came to do business and these people are trying to shove paper in my face. I’m getting sick of protests,” said Mike Steele from Discovery Bay.
The protesters admitted they don’t have a problem with the service being provided at Staples, as long as there’s a postal worker behind the counter. That’s because, according to Menjivar, the National Labor Relations Board has determined that mail dropped off at any Staples store is not considered U.S. mail until it’s in the possession of a postal worker.
“Staples has been providing the service in lieu of postal workers who work the window at the post office,” Menjivar explained. “The postal service has been removing the vending machines, reducing staffing and operational hours and inviting people to go to the stores, as late as 10:00 PM, instead.”
The mail delivered to Staples after the one collection for the day will remain there all night, unsecured, by not being in a processing facility, by law.
However, staff in the store shared that Staples staff were trained by USPS employees for the pilot program and that the mail is kept in a locked box with security cameras inside the store.
“Staples is closing stores nationwide, 225 in 2015,” he added. “So the impact is if the USPS reduces their service and then Staples closes their stores, then the people will have to go to the next closest post office or Staples in another community to get their mail handled.”
According to Menjivar, the current U.S. Postmaster General has been trying to privatize the postal service. The program with Staples was launched to determine if it would be cost effective to pursue a partnership with other retailers.
“He’s been trying to dismantle the postal service. But he’s on his way out,” said Menjivar. “The protest is having an effect, admitted by the Postmaster General. Other retailers are not signing up.”
“It’s [the Postal Service] in the Constitution,” said Ernest Johnson, a retiree from the Oakland Post Office. “What would a senior do, having to go two blocks, [to get their mail]. It wouldn’t make sense. This is a trend heading in the wrong direction.”
The first step has been to go after Staples, because they’re planning to expand the service into 1,500 Staples stores nationwide and because they’re the largest corporation involved in the mail business.
“So in essence, we’re working from the top down,” said Robert Laney an automation clerk in San Jose. “We’ll expand the fight to other corporations who are in the mail business. “
Speaking of the Staples employees who handle the mail Johnson stated, “They’re not sworn. They haven’t taken the oath.”
“Neither did they take the Civil Service Exam,” Laney added.
Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 of the U.S. Constitution, known as the Postal Clause or the Postal Power states “The Congress shall have Power To…establish Post Offices and post Roads….”
It doesn’t say anything about privatizing the delivery of the mail nor contracting out the service to private companies.
The protesters plan to be out at the Antioch Staples again, this month.