(This article first appeared in the May-June 2017 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
By Clerk Craft Directors
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) “Re: Retail” imposes a one-year moratorium on any new contracts under the Approved Shipper Program, Contract Postal Units (CPUs) and Village Post Offices (VPOs). In addition, “For a twelve month period of time commencing on the effective date of the 2015 National Agreement, the parties will enter into discussions over the ‘future of retail’ in the Postal Service.” Absent any extensions, the moratorium and discussions are scheduled to end approximately July 8, 2017.
The Clerk Craft officers have met several times to discuss “the future of retail” with USPS Retail managers. The first few meetings were used to gather information and better understand the USPS Approved Shipper Program, CPUs and VPOs. Historically, the Postal Service argued that the private companies are there to provide services where post offices are not available. However, the biggest takeaway in the last year of gathering data is we can confirm that the vast majority of these private companies are close to real post offices.
In total, 83 percent of all Approved Shippers, 71 percent of all CPUs and 74 percent of all VPOs are within three miles of a post office (see chart). The percentage of private postal retail outlets that are located close to a post office confirms union members’ experience that the Postal Service is encouraging the replacement of work performed by postal workers in post offices to private companies.
As the “smoking gun” documents in the Staples fight showed, although the Postal Service claimed they wanted to expand access for customers, some top officials in the USPS simply wanted to shift work and jobs from the Postal Service to private companies.
‘Approved Shippers’ Dissing the USPS
One of the many downsides to private companies performing postal work is the inherent tendency for the private companies to put their interests over that of the Postal Service and the American public. Approved Shippers like Office Depot, UPS, PostNet, Staples (before they were defeated), etc., in addition to selling USPS products and services, sell competitor services. For example, UPS stores sell UPS products, Office Depot sells FedEx products, and PostNet sells UPS, FedEx and DHL products.
Each of these companies makes a greater profit selling UPS, FedEx and DHL products than they do USPS products. Consequently, our testing of the Approved Shippers showed their employees promoting their profitable products over that of the USPS. Moreover, in pushing the competitor products, the store employees often dissed the Postal Service.
Approved Shippers can also charge customers more than the actual cost of USPS stamps and services. Members have even told us they heard the companies do not always admit the extra costs to the customer, and sometimes blame the Postal Service for the higher cost.
Since the Staples embarrassment, where Approved Shipper employees bashed the USPS, some top officials in the Postal Service question the idea of the Approved Shipper program. Why continue the program if it threatens the USPS’ positive brand and the trust of retail customers? Why send customers to USPS competitors, where they discredit the Postal Service to increase their profit at the expense of the USPS?
Revitalizing Post Offices
As part of our discussions with the USPS, we challenged the Postal Service to stop encouraging customers to go to private companies where service will be reduced, costs for the customer may be higher and the company may badmouth the Postal Service. We asked the USPS to increase access to customers through expanding post offices’ hours, locations and staffing.
If the USPS truly wants to provide access to postal services at later hours, why not have post offices stay open later and open on weekends as they did in the past? Post offices should be open after hours for working-class people who work long hours around the clock.
The Clerk Craft officers emphasized that the key to success is staffing the windows. It used to be windows were staffed properly, which respects both the worker at the window and the customer waiting for service. It is demoralizing to postal workers and unfair for customers, for postal management to understaff window counters, post signs encouraging the customer to go to a competitor and hear the constant negative stories about the Postal Service. If the Postal Service truly values its customers, why doesn’t it staff the window counters with enough employees to assist customers in a timely manner? In any industry, without good service, customers will go to a competitor.
The Postal Service built the respect of the American public by providing affordable and excellent service in all aspects of operations. It is a tragedy how some in the Postal Service, and some outside of it, want to destroy that trust and respect by purposely eroding service.
Once the moratorium ends, we will be at a crossroads. If the Postal Service decides to continue to erode service at the post office and encourage people to go private companies, then we have to be ready to duplicate the successful Staples strategy of boycotts and pickets. Members should research the private postal retail companies in their area. As in the Staples fight, it is a fight for good service and good jobs for our communities.