Postal workers protest in uptown

Several dozen U.S. Postal Service employees protested Thursday outside an uptown post office to criticize a deal involving retailer Staples that they see as the latest threat to their jobs.

The postal service has begun placing counters selling stamps and offering other services in more than 80 Staples stores in five U.S. markets, not including Charlotte. The counters are staffed by Staples employees, not Postal Service workers.

Charlotte’s protest was among about 50 demonstrations in 27 states planned for Thursday. As vehicles passed by the North McDowell Street post office, Postal Service employees waved signs that said, “Stop Staples. The U.S. mail is not for sale.”

The protesters said the Staples jobs should go to Postal Service employees. Even before the Staples postal counters opened, they said, morale among Postal Service employees was low thanks to post offices closing and jobs being relocated as the USPS struggles financially.

“Especially in our department, there’s been a huge decrease in morale,” said Miriam Bell, a maintenance employee who works at a Postal Service processing center on Scott Futrell Drive. “It’s the mentality of do more with less and we want your jobs, we’re going to take your jobs, we’re going to contract them out.”

The Postal Service has said the Staples program is designed to give customers more convenience and one-stop shopping. The American Postal Workers Union fears it could expand to other Staples stores.

In a statement, Staples said the retailer “continually tests new products and services to better meet the needs of our customers.” Citing policy, the company said it does not provide details on pilot programs or agreements with vendors.

The move comes after the Postal Service lost $5 billion in fiscal 2013 and had a record loss of $15.9 billion the year before, amid declining volumes of first-class mail and billions of dollars paid to prefund retiree health care.

In a statement, the USPS said the Staples pilot program “has never been an earmark to pave a way to privatization” of the Postal Service. Anthony Wilson, who also works in the Scott Futrell Drive processing center and participated in the Charlotte protest, said he doesn’t believe that.

“They’re attacking it to privatize it,” he said.

He and other union members said they don’t oppose putting the products and services in Staples.

“What we’re against is bringing in other workers without the security clearances, without the training to do it,” Wilson said. “Your mail is not going to be secure.”

The Charlotte employees handed out fliers that said expanding the Staples project will mean full-service post offices will be replaced with “knock-off” post offices inside Staples stores. The fliers warned that an expansion of the project “could lead to the end of the Postal Service as we know it.”

LeRoy Moyer, general president of the Charlotte-area APWU local, said the Charlotte-area local membership has fallen from about 1,200 in 2008 to about 1,050, in part because of buyouts.

New, permanent Postal Service employees in the Charlotte metropolitan area make about $28,000 a year. Employees who have been working for more than 15 years are making on average about $53,000, he said.

In 2010, the national union negotiated lower starting pay for temporary workers to help the Postal Service lower costs, he said. The deal also called for up to 20 percent of the national union’s workforce to comprise those temporary workers.

“We’ve met the Postal Service halfway, and now they just want more,” he said.