By Bill McAllister, Washington Correspondent
Faced with a protest and legal challenge led by the American Postal Workers Union, the United States Postal Service is retreating from a plan to get the Staples office supply chain to offer postal services at more than 500 of its outlets.
The union announced Jan. 5 that Staples would no longer accept packages and provide other postal services by the first week of March.
An APWU spokesman told Linn’s Staples stores can still sell stamps “like other retailers, but will not be allowed to be in a USPS Approved Shippers program.”
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The decision was a big defeat for the USPS, which has fought for decades to get large retailers to run mini post offices as a cost-cutting move.
A similar plan to use Sears stores was killed by APWU opposition in 1989.
Darlene Casey, a USPS spokeswoman, said the Postal Service’s latest decision was the result of a Nov. 8 ruling by a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge.
That decision “requires the Postal Service to discontinue its retail relationship with Staples,” she said. “The Postal Service intends to comply with that order.”
The APWU welcomed the action as ending what it had branded as “a dirty deal to set up post offices staffed by Staples employees” and privatize some retail postal operations.
“This is a big win,” said APWU president Mark Dimondstein. “Staples is out of the mail business, which they should never have gotten into.”
The union president added: “This is also a win for those who care about the neighborhood post office.”
Like his predecessor Moe Biller in the 1980s, Dimondstein rallied his members to stage a national protest against a large retail chain moving into a field that had been restricted to postal workers.
This time the union added a legal challenge to the Staples program and won a highly critical ruling from the law judge who heard the union’s complaint of unfair labor practices by postal management.
“The Postal Service provided the union with incomplete and misleading information about its retail partnership with Staples,” said Paul Bogas in the November ruling.
He also held that the USPS “resisted the union’s requests for additional information,” a step the judge said would have likely revealed plans for diverting work performed by union members.
Bogas held that the USPS had a legal obligation under the National Labor Relations Act to bargain with the union over the agreement with Staples and its impact on the union membership.
The union said on its website that the APWU discovered that the USPS “was actually paying Staples between $4,000 and $5,500 per store to provide these substandard services. It was further revealed that the goal was to secretly and illegally divert as much as 40 per cent of mail services from local post offices to Staples and other retailers.”
A spokeswoman for Staples told Linn’s it had entered the program in 2014 in hopes of providing postal services to its customers with longer hours than provided by most post offices. It will continue to offer package services to its customers with United Parcel Service, she said.