Postal workers protest Staples

Postal workers protest outside a Staples store in Los Angeles in April. (Robyn Beck/Getty-AFP photo / April 24, 2014)

A long-simmering feud between the U.S. Postal Service and organized labor will hit the streets of downtown Chicago today as the American Postal Workers Union protests what it calls the outsourcing of its jobs to private industry.

The object of the demonstration will be a Staples office supply store at 111 N. Wabash Ave. The union says as many as 2,000 of its members, in town for a convention, will gather outside at 3:30 p.m. to protest the chain’s establishment of mini-post offices in some of its stores.

Rich Shelley, coordinator of the union’s “Stop Staples“ campaign, said the transfer of postal workers’ duties to private companies is a way for the postal service to slash costs.

“This deal is a transfer from living wage jobs to lower wage jobs,” he said.

But postal service spokeswoman Darleen Reid said the move was meant simply to adapt to customers’ evolving needs.

“While we certainly respect the rights of our workers to voice their opinion, the story we’re telling is that this is about expanding access to the American public,” she said. “It’s about putting postal products and services where our customers live, work and shop.”

Staples, which referred questions to the postal service, recently announced that it would end the mini-post office program. In practice, Reid said, the chain will still offer the same postal service products and services, but will be free to charge higher rates and offer the services of competing shippers, such as FedEx or UPS.

That has the union calling the change “a ruse” meant to deflect attention from what it calls the privatization of government services. Shelley said the postal service has used Staples’ expanding mail offerings as an excuse to trim the hours of nearby post offices. 

Reid said that wasn’t true. 

Putting postal products and services into private stores has “no connection to closing post offices, reducing hours or our workforce,” she said. “It's all about expanding access and providing postal services to customers when it's most convenient for them.” 

jkeilman@tribune.com

Twitter @JohnKeilman