Back-to-school shopping in just around the corner, but New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) is urging its members and their families to boycott office supply giant Staples. In a Monday press release, the union announced it is joining the nationwide boycott to protest the outsourcing of U.S. Postal Service (USPS) work to non-unionized retailer Staples. The Postal Service plans to contract with Staples to put postal service counters in 1,500 Staples locations while shutting down post offices and cutting postal worker jobs.
Last October, the Postal Service launched a pilot program opening postal counters at 80 Staples stores. These counters were staffed by Staples employees who receive just four hours of training in mail handling and earn considerably less than members of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). According to the Union, the average Staples employee earns $18,000 a year for working 40 hours a week. The APWU claims that the planned expansion of the program jeopardizes 80,000 postal service jobs and is part of a plan to privatize the public service.
On Saturday, delegates attending the American Federation of Teachers convention in Los Angeles joined postal workers and community members in a rally outside the L.A. Convention Center to draw attention to the move by the Post Office and Staples. NYSUT President Karen MaGee attended the rally and made her statement of solidarity with postal workers by cutting up her own Staples card saying “That was Easy.” Teachers unions and employee associations across the country, along with the Service Employees International Union, are supporting the boycott.
“Teachers and others who work in public schools and colleges have, in the past, been among Staples’ best and most reliable customers. But teachers can and will hit Staples where it hurts — the bottom line — by taking their business elsewhere if Staples does not reverse its decision to help privatize an essential public service.” — NYSUT President Karen Magee
Much media attention has been given to the financial problems of the U.S. Postal Service, and often the problems are incorrectly attributed to a decrease in the use of “snail mail” as more Americans use email and pay bills online. According to the APWU, the actually source of the post office’s financial woes is the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, passed by Congress in 2006. The law requires the USPS pre-fund retiree health benefits 75 years in advance over a ten-year period.
The requirement that the USPS fund benefits for employees that have not yet been born has created a cash-flow problem unrelated to mail. The Postal Service had an operating surplus of $765 million during the first quarter of fiscal year 2014. The pre-funding requirement, which is 5.5 billion a year, turned this surplus into a loss.