CHICAGO - Chants of "U.S. mail is not for sale" and "Stop Staples" echoed through the canyons of this city's downtown skyscrapers yesterday as thousands of union postal workers, teachers and other supporters rallied outside a Staples Store in the Loop.
The rally was called by the American Postal Workers Union, which is holding its national convention here this week.
Protesters also shouted demands to fire Patrick Donahue, the U.S. Postmaster. Instead of earning his $245,000 salary by strengthening the U.S. Postal Service, they said, Donahue has been trying to privatize mail service by putting post offices in 82 Staples stores. These stores are staffed by Staples employees who often earn only the minimum wage, not by trained postal workers sworn to protect the mail.
APWU members have marched in front of Staples stores at locations across the nation since January. The demonstrations by APWU members and members of other postal unions, including the Letter Carriers and Mail Handlers, were triggered by the announcement last fall of a no-bid "sweetheart" deal for a "pilot project" in more than 80 Staples stores.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, brought the support of the nation's largest labor federation by speaking at the Chicago rally yesterday. Also among the speakers was the Rev. Jesse Jackson, president of the Rainbow PUSH coalition who led several chants including "Public jobs belong to public people" and "They say cutback, we say fight back."
The sea of blue-shirted members of the APWU was complimented by groups of red-shirted Chicago Teachers Union members who pledged to boycott Staples until the chain quits trying to privatize the post office. Jesse Sharkey, CTU vice-president, reported that the 5-million member American Federation of Teachers supported the Staples boycott. He estimated the annual cost to Staples of the boycott as $3.4 billion. The average teacher spends about $1000 a year on classroom supplies.
Video: Standing Up, Fighting Back! - Stop Staples Rally (Article continues after video)
Delegates to the American Federation of Teachers convention had voted July 12 to join the "Don't Buy Staples" campaign which has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the International Association of Firefighters and many other labor and community groups.
Thousands of members of the National Association of Letter Carriers also protested the Staples deal Tuesday in connection with their national convention in Philadelphia.
Demonstrators left the Chicago rally with spirits high but understanding that the fight was ongoing and they could not let down their guard. A July 7, 2014 Postal Service letter to the APWU had claimed that it was terminating the no-bid deal with Staples and replacing it with an 'approved shipper' program.
APWU President Mark Dimondstein called the letter a ruse aimed at derailing the boycott of Staples. "About a week ago, the USPS and Staples attempted to derail the boycott. They announced the pilot program was over but admitted that Staples clerks would continue to do the work of uniformed postal workers under a program with a different name.
"We've got news for them," Dimondstein added. "Our campaign to stand up for living-wage jobs and quality service for our customers isn't over until we say it's over."
Richard Shelley, the coordinator of the APWU's "Stop Staples" campaign said the Postal Service, through the Staples deal, is engaging in a "transfer of living wage jobs to lower wage jobs."
Photo: Screen shot from video.