RETURN TO SENDER: NLRB says Postal Service deal with Staples broke federal law

American Postal Workers Union (APWU) has won Round One of a legal fight against outsourcing to Staples. In a complaint issued June 26, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) says the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) broke federal labor law when it set up postal sales counters at Staples stores — staffed by low-wage nonunion Staples employees. The NLRB seeks a court order requiring USPS to restore the work to APWU members. Staples sales employees earn about one-third the roughly $25-an-hour wage of APWU members.

The Staples deal degrades postal work. It reduces postal retail service to a ‘product’ that low-wage employees sell, rather than a public service performed by highly-trained professionals.” — APWU President Mark Dimondstein

At USPS — unlike other federal agencies — labor relations are under the NLRB’s jurisdiction. Except for the right to strike, most private-sector union rights apply to postal employees too, including the right to bargain over changes to terms and conditions of employment. USPS violated that requirement when it set up postal counters at the big-box office supply seller Staples without informing the union or negotiating, the NLRB complaint says. The move also a violated a provision of the union contract that covers outsourcing. 

USPS is expanding its outsourced retail shipping “partnerships” at the same time it’s closing post offices and processing facilities.

Stop StaplesThe Staples deal started in fall 2013 with a pilot program to set up mini-post offices in more than 80 stores. That provoked a furious reaction from 200,000-member APWU and other postal unions. APWU organized protests outside Staples stores, demanding that postal counters be staffed by postal employees. In April 2014, the union announced a boycott of Staples stores and the company’s Quill.com website. The AFL-CIO endorsed the boycott, and so did AFSCME, SEIU, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association. The decision by the two teachers unions to join the boycott got Staples’ attention, and in July 2014, Staples announced it was ending the pilot program. But APWU said that was a ruse — USPS cancelled Staples’ mini-post-office pilot program and replaced it with an Approved Shipper program, in which Staples also ships via UPS. That program was then expanded to all of Staples’ more than 1,000 stores.

The boycott continues.

The NLRB complaint next goes to a federal administrative law judge, who will hear the case August 17 in Washington, D.C.

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