Local developer Hudson McDonald failed to reach an agreement regarding the sale of the Downtown Berkeley post office last week after months of negotiations and prolonged community protest. Despite termination of the sale and recent police intervention, some protesters remain outside the building on Milvia Street and Allston Way after more than a month of occupation. The protesters represent a coalition between Berkeley Post Office Defenders and First They Came for the Homeless and have opposed the sale and privatization of the post office for more than a year. “The postal service is selling itself out of business, one post office at a time,” said Mike Wilson, organizer for the Berkeley Post Office Defenders.
The selling off of the US Post Office continues. The dismantling of the Post Office, laying off of workers, efforts to reduce service and make deals with private corporations to fulfill some Post Office responsibilities as well as the absurd requirements for paying the health and retirement benefits of postal workers 75 years into the future, seem to be a formula for setting up the privatization of the US Postal Service. From the San Jose Mercury News: Confirming rumors buzzing around City Hall, the U.S. Postal Service told this newspaper Friday that the historic downtown Berkeley Post Office is “under contract but not yet sold.” From the Berkeley Daily Planet: The Berkeley City Council has received a letter from City Attorney Zach Cowan saying that he believes that the Berkeley Post Office might already been sold or at least the United States Postal Service (USPS) is in contract with a potential buyer. Pursuant to previous authorization from the Council, the city of Berkeley has authorized attorney Antonio Rossmann to file a lawsuit, hoping to prevent the sale.
The United States Postal Service (USPS) management just ran into a possible game-changing obstacle to its shameful pursuit of a fully privatized post office: labor solidarity. Here’s the background. For a decade the USPS has been aggressively shrinking, consolidating, and outsourcing the nation’s postal system. In July 2011 management upped the ante by announcing the rapid closure of 3600 local post offices, a step toward the eventual closing of as many as 15,000, half of all post offices in the nation. A groundswell of opposition erupted. Citizens in hundreds of towns mobilized to save a treasured institution that plays a key and sometimes defining role in their communities. In December 2011, after Congress appeared ready to impose a six-month moratorium on closures USPS management voluntarily adopted a freeze of the same length. In May 2012, the moratorium ended but management, possibly concerned about reviving a national backlash, embraced an ingenious stealth strategy. Rather than closures, management moved to slash hours at 13,000 post offices.
The deal between Staples and the U.S. Postal Service jeopardizes mail service and the viability of local post offices. In fact, post offices across the country are at risk — along with thousands of good jobs. The Staples deal will replace full-service U.S. Post Offices with knock-off post offices in Staples stores that are not staffed with U.S. Postal Service employees. Consumers have a right to post offices staffed by workers who are accountable to clientele and topostal services provided by highly trained Postal Service employees, who are sworn to safeguard your mail. The Staples deal is bad for consumers, who will pay the same for less service. And if Staples and the USPS move forward with this deal, it could lead to the end of the Postal Service as we know it. In the meantime, the Staples deal is replacing good-paying jobs that our communities depend on with low-wage, non-union jobs that hurt our economy.
American Postal Workers – The announcement by Staples yesterday, indicating it is terminating its no-bid deal with the U.S. Postal Service and replacing it with an “approved shipper” program, “is a ruse,” says American Postal Workers Union President Mark Dimondstein. Staples and the USPS are changing the name of the program, without addressing the fundamental concerns of postal workers and postal customers. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. Dimondstein says the Staples announcement, along with a July 7 letter from the USPS, “makes it clear. They intend to continue to privatize postal retail operations, replace living-wage Postal Service jobs with low-wage Staples jobs and compromise the safety and security of the mail.” He adds: This attempt at trickery shows that the ‘Don’t Buy Staples’ movement is having an effect. We intend to keep up the pressure until Staples gets out of the mail business. The U.S. Mail Is Not for Sale.
The protest at Staples took on new dimensions today at 5:00 PM in the shape of small, but Occupyable tents between the sidewalk and the Staples parking lot in Berkeley on Durant between Shattuck and Milvia. Peeps from Berkeley Post Office Defenders and Occupy San Francisco are among the participants. As one of the campers said, “We’re here until Staples’ Post Offices aren’t.” The United State Postal Service and Staples began a pilot program back in October of 2013 whereby full-service Post Office stations were installed in some Staples around the country. But instead of being staffed by Postal Workers at living wage salaries they are being staffed by subsistence wage Staples employees. The American Postal Workers Union began protests and a boycott back in January, 2014. The boycott has been adopted nationwide by a large number of unions in recent months and has put serious pressure on Staples. A 24/7 table was set up in front on the Berkeley Staples on Shattuck just about a month ago, handing out literature and Boycott Staples postcards.
June 13, 2014 – SEIU 32BJ, representing 145,000 union members in 11 states and the District of Columbia, is boycotting all Staples retail stores in the U.S., Staples.com and Staples Advantage, as well as all Staples branded proprietary products. “We will no longer be using Staples as our union’s office supplier, and we will be actively encouraging our members and allies to refrain from doing business with your company,” SEUI 32BJ President Héctor Figueroa said in a June 11 letter [PDF] to Staples CEO Ronald Sargent. “It is unfortunate that we must take this action, but we strongly oppose your pilot program with the U.S. Postal Service to establish postal retail units in your stores staffed by low-wage, non-union, non-postal employees,” he wrote. “The Postal Service is the largest single civilian employer of union middle-class jobs for African Americans, and Veterans (including disabled veterans), and is the largest single civilian union employer. We need more of these types of jobs to strengthen our economy and the middle class, and we will not accept your efforts to undermine them through low-wage privation.”
When Lansing, Michigan Mayor Virg Bernero introduces two resolutions in support of expansion of United States Postal Service services at the 2014 U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting in Dallas in two weeks, he’ll have the support of co-sponsors Mayor Paul Soglin of Madison, Wis., and Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland, Calif. Bernero, who chairs the USCM’s Advanced Manufacturing Task Force, submitted the resolutions several weeks ago. They represent cutting edge ideas advanced by some of America’s most forward-thinking policymakers and analysts. Elizabeth Warren proposed non-banking financial services at the beginning of the year (based on the recommendations of the U.S.P.S. Inspector General), while public banking activists and postal experts have long suggested a postal infrastructure bank that could re-build America’s infrastructure at a fraction of the interest costs levied by private financiers. “Our nation’s mayors are acutely aware of the impact of predatory lending, ‘banking deserts,’ and the potential loss of postal services in American cities and towns,” said Marc Armstrong, president of BankACT, a nonpartisan group campaigning for postal banking legislation at the federal level and public banks at the state and local level. Many Americans are asking ‘what if we had a banking system that is not based on profits?’ Credit unions are small step in this direction – postal banking helps to complete the picture.”
On April 24, members of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) and other unions held 56 “Stop Staples” demonstrations in 27 different states. The postal workers, carrying signs that read, “The U.S. mail is NOT for sale,” were protesting against a privatization deal between the U.S. Postal Service and the office supply chain Staples. Launched in October 2013, the deal allows non-unionized employees of 82 Staples stores to help sort mail. If the program is expanded later this year, that number could increase to 1,500 stores. In a press release, APWU said of the program, “Staples employees, who work for low wages and meager benefits—and who have received minimal training—operate these unsecured postal counters.” APWU sees the Staples deal as a step toward much greater privatization of the U.S. Postal Service, and they are right to be concerned, not only because of the interests of postal workers, but also, because the privatization or dismantling of the U.S. Postal Service will be terrible for American consumers and small businesses. It’s no secret that times have been challenging for USPS. The increase in digital communications has resulted in many Americans spending much less on postage than 15 or 20 years ago.
On April 17th, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation issued its Preserving Historic Post Offices report to Congress “on compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act for the closure and disposal of its historic postal facilities.” This report was requested by legislation initiated by Berkeley’s United States Representative in Congress Barbara Lee. photo polb-dave-welsh_zps80493c78.jpgThe report tells us some that is new, and much that we already know from Berkeley’s experience attempting to interact with Postal Service management. We are well aware that they refuse to care about the community’s concerns – when they deign to listen at all (public meetings attended by hundreds of Berkeley residents in near-universal opposition to the sale of Berkeley’s Post Office whose voices were totally ignored showed us that); we know that Postal Service management ignores the law when it is inconvenient to their purposes; and we know that they are hell-bent on selling Post Office assets in pursuit of immediate revenue, all as the report suggests.
“U.S. mail is not for sale!” This was the hard-hitting message of hundreds of local activists who joined forces across the country in a national day of action protesting a privatization deal between the U.S. Postal Services and Staples. The USPS pilot program establishing unsecured postal counters in more than 80 Staples stores in four geographic areas began late last year. In response, American Postal Workers Union (APWU) members and associates rallied outside Staples stores around the country demanding an end to the deal which they say is aimed at replacing good, living-wage postal jobs with low-wage, high-turnover jobs filled with untrained Staples employees. They say it may eventually lead to layoffs and the closing of post offices.
The national protest on April, 24, 2014 called by the American Postal Workers Union APWU and other postal unions is an important step in fighting the privatization and destruction and looting of our US post office. The privatization is being implemented to benefit capitalists like Mitt Romney who owns Staples and is part and parcel of the destruction of public services from the privatization of the schools through charters and corporate testing to the privatization and outsourcing of public transit by Veolia and other companies. We need to unite the 11 million public workers in the United States to launch a real political education campaign against the privatization of Staples and all other profiteers and union busters. This is not only a US issue but a global struggle and in Canada they have already ended postal delivery to homes harming the seniors and tens of millions of working people.
On a recent Saturday morning, 500 protesters poured out of a parade of school buses, signs and megaphones in hand, and tried their best to shame a single Staples store just outside Chicago. Among them was Mike Suchomel, a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service, who traveled all the way from New Jersey for a nearby labor conference. What has infuriated Suchomel and many of his fellow postal union members is a new arrangement struck between USPS and the office supply retailer. Under the premise of a pilot program, a limited number of Staples locations are now offering most of the same services provided at post offices, to be handled by Staples employees rather than postal workers. “It’s just a big step toward privatization,” said Suchomel, who hopped a bus to the protest from the Labor Notes conference, a biannual gathering of labor activists held in Chicago. “I think it’s a terrible thing that the postmaster general would even think about this.”
Investigative reporter Greg Palast is usually pretty good at peering behind the rhetoric and seeing what is really going on. But in tearing into Senator Elizabeth Warren’s support of postal financial services, he has done a serious disservice to the underdogs — both the underbanked and the U.S. Postal Service itself. In his February 27 article “Liz Warren Goes Postal,” Palast attacked her support of the USPS Inspector General’s proposal to add “non-bank” financial services to the U.S. Postal Service, calling it “cruel, stupid and frightening” and equating it with the unethical payday lending practices it seeks to eliminate.
Declaring that “the U.S. Postal Service is under unprecedented attack,” the presidents of the four postal unions have formed a historic alliance to fight back. “A congressionally-manufactured financial crisis drains the USPS of vital resources,” the union presidents write in a proclamation [PDF] signed over the last several days. “Six-day delivery is under constant threat of elimination. The reduction of service standards and the elimination of half of the nation’s mail processing centers has slowed service and wiped out tens of thousands of good jobs. Post offices in cities and small towns are being sold or closed or having their hours cut back.