In a move that could have a profound impact on African-Americans, the U.S. Postal Service has begun a pilot program offering services over the counter at 80 Staples stores around the country. The program prompted postal workers to stage protests yesterday at Staples stores across the nation, including New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
The workers are afraid that the pilot program will expand and lead to more post office closures, as the Postal Service looks to replace costly workers—who make an average of $25 an hour—with lower paid retail clerks.
John Hegarty, president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, which represents about 45,000 mail handlers, said the outsourcing endangers the sanctity and security of the mail.
“We are highly trained, skilled postal employees, and they want to give it to employees who really don’t know anything about the mail,” he said.
Since 2006, the U.S. Postal Service has eliminated more than 170,000 jobs, falling disproportionately on the backs of African-Americans because they are such a large percentage of the workforce.
While African-Americans represent 13.1 percent of the U.S. population and 11.6 percent of the labor force, according to a 2012 Department of Labor report, African-Americans make up about 20 percent of Postal Service workers and are the majority in some urban centers. In the Chicago area, African-Americans represent 75 percent to 80 percent of the 5,000 letter carriers, according to Mack Julion, president of the Chicago branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers.
Overall, nearly 1 in 5 African-American workers hold government jobs such as mail clerks, firefighters and teachers.
“There’s a long tradition of the public sector being more friendly, or less hostile, to African-American workers,” Robert Zieger, emeritus professor of history at the University of Florida, told the Huffington Post. “The post office is the best example.”
The public sector has cut nearly 600,000 jobs since 2009, slamming the Black middle class and keeping Black unemployment in the double digits.
And things aren’t going to improve anytime soon for postal workers. The post office is the nation’s second-largest civilian employer after Wal-Mart, with about 536,000 career workers. But the Postal Service lost $5 billion in the 2013 fiscal year and $15.9 billion in the 2012 budget year, and has been desperately trying to convince Congress to pass legislation to help with its financial woes, including an end to Saturday mail delivery and reduced payments on retiree health benefits.
Mark Dimondstein, president of the American Postal Workers Union, representing 200,000 employees, told the Associated Press that the Staples partnership is “a dirty deal.”
“It represents a shift of good, living-wage jobs to low-wage jobs,” Dimondstein said.
Staples spokesman Mark Cautela said the store is always testing new ways to serve its customers.
At a rally in Los Angeles, U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who was protesting with the workers, said, “What you want to do is have as efficient an operation as possible, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice efficiency and universal service just because somebody says you have to tighten your belt.”