Occupy turns to Stop Staples

Jamie Partridge, a retired postal worker and member of Communities and Postal Workers United, reports on Bay Area activists' efforts to save the U.S. Post Service.

Occupy activists have taken up the Stop Staples campaign in San Francisco (Sarah Menefee)Occupy activists have taken up the Stop Staples campaign in San Francisco (Sarah Menefee)

IN AN escalation of the Stop Staples campaign, a group calling itself Occupy San Francisco/First They Came For the Homeless camped 24/7 outside the entrance of the Staples office supply store at 1700 Van Ness--one of 82 that have established "postal counters" inside. From June 1 through 9, the occupiers displayed signs, huddled against the wind and discouraged shoppers from buying at the store.

In a secretive, sweetheart deal to outsource postal operations to low-wage, high-turnover Staples stores, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is reducing customer service hours at 21 of 39 U.S. Post Office stations in San Francisco. Cutbacks in hours are also planned in surrounding Bay Area communities.

"They're shutting the doors at 5 p.m. and posting signs sending people to private locations--including Staples--to conduct postal business," said Geoffray Dumaguit, president of the San Francisco local of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU). "This will inconvenience and irritate our customers, who often need to visit a Post Office after work."

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe has denied that Staples stores would replace any of the nation's 33,000 traditional post offices, but six months into the program, hours are being curtailed at nearby USPS offices.

The postmaster general also claimed there would be no loss of USPS jobs as a result of the Staples deal, which allows the retail giant to conduct most of the business post offices handle. But the postal counters in Staples stores are staffed with low-wage Staples employees with no experience and little training, rather than highly trained uniformed Postal Service employees.

The no-bid deal with Staples, which began at more than 80 retail outlets in California and three other states, plans to expand to over 1,500 locations nationwide.

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OCCUPY SAN Francisco spokesperson Mike Zint estimated that their week-long occupation had cost the store $12,000 in sales. Zint said the group was monitoring Staples stock, which they said was falling rapidly. While they broke camp for a few days to occupy the sidewalk outside Sen. Dianne Feinstein's office in a related postal protest, the activists vowed to return to Staples at the end of the week, with their sights set on a summer-long occupation.

This latest revival of Occupy SF follows in the wake of a similar postal-related occupation across the bay in Berkeley last August. In fact, some of the same protesters, many of them from the ranks of the long-term homeless, had set up a tent city on the steps of the Berkeley post office, which was threatened with sale to a private developer.

The month-long Berkeley encampment attracted widespread support from residents and postal workers, but was broken up by local police. The Berkeley post office remains open to this day, although it is still on the market through CBRE, a giant real estate firm whose chairman Richard Blum is married to Sen. Feinstein. Which is why the San Francisco group has established their current encampment, protesting corruption and influence peddling, outside the senator's office.

The connection between CBRE and postal privatization goes beyond the sale of post offices to the establishment of Staples "postal counters." At a recent Staples stockholders meeting, APWU National Business Agent Shirley Taylor challenged the re-election of Robert Sulentic to Staples' board of directors, noting that he has an apparent conflict of interest. Sulentic is also CEO of CBRE. "Mr. Sulentic's involvement with Staples postal counters constitutes self-dealing and is a violation of SEC rules on self-dealing and Staples' own ethics policies," Taylor said.