Last year Berkeley citizens turned out en masse under the banner of Save the Berkeley Post Office. Claiming “dire financial circumstances” the U. S. postal service announced its intention to sell our historic post office building, as well as a number of others across the country, to private developers. Berkeleyans are determined to resist. But the issue is more than the sale of historic buildings.
This is just one step in the process of privatization of the post office. The functions of the postal service are being outsourced to privately owned corporations. It is happening now with postal counters being set up in Staples stores and having the store employees handling the mail.
The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) is calling for a Stop Staples campaign. All over the country unions and civic organizations are urging people to boycott Staples. While the Postal Service continues to contract with more Staples stores, the boycott campaign is growing.
A Staples announcement a few days ago that they were terminating the agreement with the Postal Service was, in the words of APWU president Mark Dimonstein “an attempt at trickery”. In fact they were simply changing the name of the program to “approved shipper”. The United States Post Office sign still hangs in Staples' store windows.
The APWU website has details on the agreement between Staples and U.S. Postal Service. For postal customers it means a serious deterioration of safety and quality of mail services. Packages and letters at Staples stores are not considered “mail” until they are picked up by the Postal Service. Packages dropped off at Staples stores are placed in unsecured containers. That means they don’t have the protection of the U.S. Mail. And Staples gets a discount on postal products while customers pay the regular prices. (This is not the case for other retail stores selling postal products. They get no discounts.)
The mail handlers are non-union Staples employees working for low and minimal benefits in high turnover jobs. They get only a few hours of training and have no reason to develop any loyalty to the postal service. On the other hand USPS employees answer to the American people. USPS postal retail clerks have to go through 32 hours of intense classroom training plus on-the-job training and pass a test before they are qualified to work at a window. Before they are hired, USPS employees undergo a background check, take an oath to protect the security and safety of the mail, and are bound by a Code of Ethical Conduct.
Berkeley activists have set up an “Info Table” in front of the Staples on Shattuck to hand out literature and urge people to support the boycott. They have been out there for almost a month. Mike Zint is there day and night. He is a homeless person and explains that spending his nights there serves as a homeless protest while in the daytime he is supporting the Post Office. “I'm just and American protesting the privatization of the post office … it's union busting” he says.
The Info Table carries flyers about the boycott as well as other events of interest in town. And for people who are concerned about where to purchase their office supplies they have a handy list of stores in downtown Berkeley selling supplies, electronics and anything else that Staples offers. The action appears to have an effect. Fewer customers are seen in the store and fewer cars in the parking lot.
And more people who see this privatization as another step in putting more power in the hands of the One Percent are participating in the action every day.