Postal Service Under Fire on Workers’ Issues: NLRB Official Slams Staples Scheme; Half of Senate Opposes Closings

WASHINGTON –Providing yet more evidence that U.S. Postal Service manage-ment is headed in the wrong direction – at least where its workers are concerned – a National Labor Relations Board official slammed its scheme to subcontract services to Staples stores.

And a bipartisan coalition consisting of half of the U.S. Senate now opposes management’s plan to close 82 more postal distribution centers.

The two developments, plus previous “no confidence” votes by both big postal unions, the Letter Carriers (NALC) and the Postal Workers (APWU), should be enough to give postal managers pause.  To make sure, the unions plan to again take their case public, this fall.

NLRB Administrative Law Judge Eric Fine dealt the legal blow.  He ruled that, since last November, the Postal Service broke labor law by refusing to provide requested materials, e-mails and memos about the Staples deal to APWU.  That includes Staples’ full and uncensored pact with the USPS, and financial details.  USPS calls the Staples scheme a “pilot project.”

The political slam was the letter from 50 senators.  They asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to insert language any money bill that affects the Postal Service banning USPS from closing more distribution centers nationwide.  They also asked their colleagues to preserve 6-day postal pickup and delivery.

The center closings would eliminate 15,000 middle-class jobs, the senators, led by Susan Collins, R-Maine, wrote.  “At a time when our middle class is disappearing, loss of 15,000 well-paying middle-class jobs would hurt our communities and their economies,” their letter said.   Five Republicans, both independents and 43 Democrats signed the letter.

And the agency’s prior closing of 141 distribution centers has already slowed down first-class mail, making it less reliable for the public and small businesses, they added.

USPS is closing the distribution centers, trying to eliminate Saturday pickup and delivery and imposing the Staples deal as part of Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe’s scheme to eliminate red ink he says plagues the agency.  USPS recently reported a $2 billion net loss for the first nine months of its fiscal year.

Letter Carriers President Fredric Rolando promptly reiterated the only reason USPS, on paper, ran in the red, is a congressionally mandated prepayment of $5.6 billion yearly for future retirees’ health care costs.  Without that, Rolando said, the Postal Service would have turned a billion-dollar profit.  A GOP-run Congress forced that prepayment on USPS in a 2006 law.

Rolando added mail revenue is up by $424 million, compared to last year.  “As the economy improves, letter mail revenue is growing.  And as more people shop online, package revenue is skyrocketing.  The Internet is now a net positive for USPS, auguring well for the future as e-commerce grows.  In the third quarter, package revenue rose 6.6 percent, standard mail revenue rose 5.1 percent and first-class mail revenue was up 3.2 percent.

“Given the positive mail trends, it would be irresponsible to degrade services to Americans and their businesses, which would drive away mail — and revenue – and stop the postal turnaround in its tracks.  Lawmakers need to preserve and strengthen the profitable postal networks — which are the future of the USPS as it increasingly delivers not just six but seven days a week — while fixing the pre-funding fiasco,” Rolando added.

USPS is using the Staples deal to subcontract unionized employees’ work, Fine ruled.

Even if the union’s bargaining unit members don’t lose hours or wages as a result, Fine’s decision adds, prior NLRB rulings still require any employer to turn over background materials and data concerning the subcontracting, so they could effectively bargain about it.  Union bargainers testified to Fine the Staples scheme already cuts into bargaining unit work.

The deal, covering 84 Staples stores nationwide, is controversial.  Donahoe identified it as one of his cost-cutting moves.  He would replace middle-class full-time unionized Postal Workers with minimum-wage, often part-time non-union Staples workers for basic services such as selling stamps and money orders.

His scheme, and other cost-cutting plans – including the center closings – have led the Letter Carriers, the Postal Workers, the Mail Handlers-Laborers and the Rural Letter Carriers into highly visible public protests.  More demonstrations are in the works.

“Because this is a pilot program, the information requested in your letter does not appear to be relevant or simply premature in light of the one-year pilot,” Postal Service official Patrick Devine told then-new APWU President Mark Dimondstein in a letter last November.  Devine is the agency official directly responsible for dealing with APWU.

Devine also called APWU’s request, “unduly broad and overly burdensome” and said obeying it could force the Postal Service to disclose confidential and proprietary information.

ALJ Fine said that’s ridiculous.  So did Dimondstein.

“Nowhere does the national agreement” – APWU’s contract – “exempt pilot projects” from requirements that USPS turn over requested information, Dimondstein said.  Further, “It appears Staples employees are doing bargaining unit work and will continue to do so.”  That violates the union’s contract with the Postal Service, he said.

Fine also ordered the Postal Service to post a notice about the turnover order at all “bargaining unit locations” – Postal Service facilities – within two miles of each of the 84 Staples stores.  And since USPS wants to extend the “pilot project” to 1,300 Staples stores nationwide, Fine told USPS to send the notice of the anti-Staples order nationwide, too.