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TheStreet Open House

Union: Let Post Office Sell Financial Services and Staff Staples Postal Outlets

Washington ( TheStreet) -- The way the president of the American Postal Workers Union sees it, the post office has two ways to go. One is downscale, letting Staples (SPLS) workers sell its products as its business diminishes.

The alternatives, Mark Dimondstein said, are to have post office work done by post office employees, who receive middle-class salaries, and also for the post office to offer financial services to the 68 million Americans who are generally unbanked and utilize payday lenders and other less desirable financial services. 

"We're for expanding and offering enhanced services to people, for looking at the postal service in a broader way," said Dimondstein, who took over in November as president of APWU, which represents about 200,000 primarily postal workers.

Dimondstein is taking an activist approach that starts with opposing aspects of a plan to put post offices in Staples outlets. That plan was unveiled two weeks after Dimondstein took office and gave a speech citing the past glory of the labor movement, including the UAW's sit-down strike at GM (GM) in Flint, Mich., in the mid-1930s. "To succeed, postal workers must build a movement," he said.

The Staples deal would put post offices in 82 to 84 stores as pilot projects, with plans to expand to 1,500 to 1,600 stores. It is viewed as a way to make postal products more widely available to the public, and the postal service said it does not displace any employees.

"We strenuously object not to the pilot, or to extending hours, but because these (outlets) are not staffed by postal workers," Dimondstein said. "It represents a shift of living wage jobs to non-living-wage jobs, and to workers who are not well-trained, familiar with regulations or accountable to the people of this country and the security and privacy of the mail."

While U.S. Postal Service workers made between $15 and $24 an hour and have substantial benefits, Staples workers start at $8 or $9 an hour and have minimal benefits, Dimondstein said.

The APWU plans protests next week in Atlanta, one of the four locations for the pilot project, with additional demonstrations slated in central Massachusetts, Northern California and Pittsburgh. Staples is scheduled to report fiscal fourth-quarter earnings on March 6. The impact of the demonstrations "is up to investors," Dimondstein said. "We're not going to be shy about it. If Staples does not staff these stores with postal workers, we will encourage people to take their business elsewhere."

Staples and the USPS spokespeople said putting post offices in Staples stores benefits customers of both institutions.

"Staples continually tests new products and services to better meet the needs of our customers," said Staples spokeswoman Carrie McElwee. "We are currently operating a pilot program in select stores that is testing specific services and offering added convenience for our customers." She did not disclose financial details of the program or salaries.

USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said the partnership "increases access to postal products and services while broadening customer access through an increased number of locations open seven days a week. With its appeal to business customers, Staples is an attractive partner because it is a leading office supply market leader. The Postal Service is the exclusive mailing and shipping services provider for customers at these pilot stores."

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