The Stop Staples Fight:
Unity and Activism - Key to Victory!
(This article first appeared in the March-April 2017 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
By President Mark Dimondstein
After a dynamic three-year campaign, we have won the Stop Staples fight! Postal management informed the APWU in writing that the “Approved Shipper” program in Staples stores would be shut down by the end of February 2017. The boycott against Staples is now over.
The Staples struggle and victory shows what we can accomplish when we stand up and fight back. Within weeks after I assumed office in November 2013, my administration was faced with the implementation of a USPS “pilot program” placing full-service post offices initially into 82 Staples stores – “postal” counters run by low-paid, non-union and untrained Staples workers.
The Staples pilot program was a direct assault on our jobs and an acceleration of the privatization of retail services. Management’s claim that the Staples deal was just to expand customer access was bogus. Its goal was to reduce and replace postal union jobs. It was time for the APWU to draw a line in the sand.
We wasted no time swinging into action. I met with then Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe to voice our concerns. I raised that the APWU could possibly support the initial one-year pilot if USPS postal clerks staffed the Staples counters. He answered that the intention was to rapidly expand the Staples “post offices,” staffed by non-postal employees, into over 1,500 Staples stores nationwide. I immediately sought and gained the full support of the APWU National Executive Board to take on the Staples-USPS deal, including the necessary funding and human resources. We knew this would be a long but necessary fight.
We wrote to then Staples’ CEO Ron Sargent asking for a meeting. He refused. Local APWU delegations visited hundreds of Staples stores, voicing our concerns to local managers followed by a National Day of Action. Under the slogan “The U.S. Mail is Not for Sale,” over 56 protests were held in 27 states. After this, the APWU launched the official Staples Boycott.
If Staples was going to take our work and jobs for their private profit, we were going to hit back and affect their bottom line. Targeting six key areas (San Francisco Bay Area, Atlanta, Boston, Pittsburgh, New York City and Philadelphia) our APWU activists distributed leaflets in front of Staples stores on a regular basis, turning away customer after customer, year after year.
We reached out to our labor allies. The large teacher unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), gave us vital and strong support. Our sister postal unions enthusiastically supported the campaign. The Mailhandlers’ magazine put the Staples fight on their front cover. The NALC demonstrated at a Staples store during their 2014 convention. The 12 million worker-strong AFL-CIO added Staples to their official boycott list. UNI Global Union, an international union association, endorsed the Staples Boycott and urged all of its affiliated unions to put pressure on Staples in the 26 countries where the company does business. Dozens of state AFL-CIO federations, local unions, Central Labor Councils, Labor Notes, community allies (many of whom belong to A Grand Alliance to Save our Public Postal Service) and city councils took actions endorsing the boycott.
Our 2014 National Convention, the highest APWU authority, reaffirmed the Stop Staples fight, authorizing all the resources necessary, and took to the streets in front of a downtown Chicago Staples store. We had spirited protests at Staples’ annual shareholder meetings. We launched StopStaples.com, where tens of thousands pledged to join the boycott. We engaged in a postcard campaign resulting in over 100,000 postcards delivered to Staples’ CEO. We also talked to our co-workers, family, friends and neighbors about staying away from Staples as long as it stayed in the “postal” business.
When Staples reached a $5 billion deal to purchase Office Depot, it was the APWU who sided with consumers and played a major role in blocking it. This forced Sargent to resign and cost Staples a $250 million penalty they had to pay to Office Depot.
We carried out investigations proving Staples was shortchanging the Postal Service in revenue, undermining the security of the mail and trashing the United States Postal Service brand. A USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation, that we requested, further proved these facts. We won a series of cases before the National Labor Relations Board culminating in a recent Administrative Law Judge’s decision that the USPS failed to bargain with the APWU over the subcontracting of postal work to Staples. Throughout the long campaign, we obtained substantial and positive press coverage.
This is not only a victory over the Staples’ dirty deal. The many retail chains planning similar deals with the USPS largely backed off and got the message – mess with postal workers and customers and you will have to tangle with the APWU family!
Our Stop Staples success is an important advance in the fight against ongoing efforts to privatize retail and other postal services. Under our new union contract, we secured a minimum of a one-year moratorium on the expansion of Approved Shipper programs, Village Post Offices and Contract Postal Units. Discussions with postal management regarding the “future of postal retail” are ongoing. With the Staples deal out of the way, there is a fresh opportunity for postal management and the APWU to consider the future expansion and improvement of retail operations without these misguided privatization schemes that undermine good service, good jobs and a strong postal brand. We call on postal management to use these ongoing discussions with the APWU to change direction. Together we can build a great retail experience for customers with a strong and expanded public retail network.
As your President, I never doubted if we stayed the course, stuck together and kept the activist pressure on, we would win this fight. I believe in you. I believe unity and activism builds power. I believe workers can take it “to the streets” and win!
I salute and commend every member and supporter who made this victory possible. Many local and state organizations joined in the fight. Our retiree and auxiliary chapters stepped up with enthusiasm. National officers and staff stayed the course (a special shout-out to Rich Shelley who was our national union’s coordinator of the Staples fight). Our attorneys ably assisted us along the way. The many Stop Staples activists, active and retired, career and non-career, who worked day-in and day-out to see this victory through, were the heart and soul of this campaign.
A job well-done Sisters and Brothers! The struggle continues, but this victory helps strengthen and steel us for the battles ahead!