The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed a complaint charging that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) violated its collective bargaining agreement with the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and national labor laws when it joined a Staples shipping partner program last year.
In its ruling the NLRB gave the USPS until July 13 to respond to the complaint. The NLRB will hold a hearing on the case Aug. 17.
According to the complaint, the USPS failed to provide requested information to the APWU about the postal service’s subcontract agreement with Staples for its in-store Approved Shipper Program, which Staples joined in August 2014. The program, begun in 2006, is available at 6,000 retail outlets ranging from independent outlets to nationwide chains. It allows Staples to offer services from UPS as well as the USPS.
The USPS joined the Approved Shipper Program, which allows also Staples to offer USPS product discounts, after ending a pilot with the office supply retailer that began in 2013 at 82 stores and grew to 150 outlets.
In striking an approved shipper agreement with Staples, the APWU said the USPS violated the collective bargaining agreement by, among other things, subcontracting out the work without union negotiation. The union is irked that Staples uses lower-paid employees to handle duties normally carried out by much better compensated and trained post office employees.
The NLRB agreed, saying the USPS “has been failing and refusing to bargain collectively and in good faith” with the APWU.
“This ruling represents an important step forward in the battle against the privatization of our nation’s public postal service,” APWU President Mark Dimondstein said in a prepared statement.
According to documents the APWU obtained from the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) under an FOI request, the USPS agreement with Staples was set up as a baseline or model for future agreements with other retailers to sell USPS products and services.
This type of move would make sense given the USPS’ ongoing battle against massive amounts of red ink, due in large part to labor costs and reductions in mail volume. But USPS spokesperson Sarah Ninivaggi said the union’s claims of privatization are “false and misleading.”
“The Postal Service remains committed to providing convenient customer access to postal products and services,” Ninivaggi said. “We have no interest in privatizing the Postal Service. We instead are looking to grow our business to provide expanded access to products and services through retail partners, as well as in our own locations. By locating postal services inside established businesses, customers can save time and in many cases have the benefit of longer hours than at regular Post Offices, seven days a week.”
Mark Cautela, Staples’ director of corporate communications, said more than 500 Staples stores currently participate in the Approved Shipper Program; several media reports peg it at 1,000 stores. “Staples’ customers love the convenience provided by the (program), including location, extended hours and one-stop shopping for every product businesses need to succeed,” Cautela said.