Satellite post office at Berkeley Staples draws protests

Mike Zint protests the min-post office in the Staples store on Shattuck Ave. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Mike Zint protests the mini-post office in the Staples store on Shattuck Ave. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

For the last 19 nights, Mike Zint, 47, has been sleeping sitting up in a chair in front of the Staples store at 2352 Shattuck Ave. He has set up vigil in downtown Berkeley to protest the “privatization” of the U.S. Postal Service, as well as chronic homelessness in the United States.

Zint is part of a small group of homeless activists that has established a camp of sorts on the sidewalk. During the day, they pass out leaflets protesting the seven-month-old deal allowing Staples to run satellite postal operations in 82 stores across the country, including the one in Berkeley. They have a table piled with leaflets talking about the deal, as well as information about the U.S. Post Office’s plan to sell the Main Post office on Allston Way.

The encampment is “drug and alcohol free,” according to Zint. It is also kind. The activists have adopted a spindly tree right next to their information table. They named it Fred and have been watering it regularly.

“We are doing intense outreach,” said Zint. “We are encouraging a boycott of Staples. We are definitely having an effect on business.”

The Berkeley protest is one of dozens happening around the country as unions and activists battle for the future of the U.S. Postal Service. Under federal pressure to cut costs – and to pre-fund a workers’ pension plan — the postal service has been selling off many of its historic post offices, shuttering rural and less-used post offices, and outsourcing some of its postal operations.

In December 2013, the U.S. Postal Service announced that it was setting up a pilot program with Staples to sell stamps, accept packages for delivery, and offer other services. The Staples post office branches would be staffed by Staples employees, not unionized post-office employees.

The American Postal Workers Union, which represents clerks, maintenance employees, motor vehicle operators, and non-mail processing postal employees, immediately criticized the partnership. Union officials said it was part of the push to privatize the post office by outsourcing jobs. Staples workers are paid around $9 an hour compared to the $15 to $25 an hour unionized postal workers receive.

As proof of this, the union released an internal U.S. Post Office document that it had obtained during a hearing before the National Labor Relations Board.

“The pilot will be used to determine if lower costs can be realized with retail partner labor instead of the labor traditionally associated with retail windows at post offices,” post office officials wrote, according to leaked document.

The Postmaster General, Patrick R. Donahue, has denied that he wants to privatize the service. The Staples partnership is just part of an attempt to enhance customer service and offer longer hours in more locations.

Members of the American Postal Workers Union protested this week in front of the Staples store on Shattuck Ave, Photo:

Members of the American Postal Workers Union protested this week in front of the Staples store on Shattuck Ave. in downtown Berkeley. Photo: First They Came for the Homeless

“Partnerships like this are not new and are all about growing our business,” Richard Maher, a Postal Service spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times. “The unions’ privatization issue is a ruse, we have no interest in privatizing the Postal Service.”

Read about Berkeley’s attempts to stop the sale of its main post office.

While the encampment on Shattuck Avenue is staffed by homeless activists, they are working in conjunction with the postal workers union on its “Don’t Buy Staples” campaign. Earlier this week, a large contingent of Bay Area postal workers protested outside the Shattuck Avenue store.

“The union is asking supporters to sign a postcard addressed to Staples CEO Ronald L. Sargent, telling him that, until his stores staff their postal counters with USPS employees, they will take their business elsewhere,” according to an article on the union’s website.

While the union has designed a no-frills postcard to send to the management of Staples, Berkeley Post Office Defense, another local group protesting the sale of the Allston Way post office, is handing out colorful retro postcards that portray the Staples deal like a Martian invasion.

Anti-Staples postcard made by Berkeley Post Office Defense

Anti-Staples postcard made by Berkeley Post Office Defense

The manager of the Staples store on Shattuck said she could not comment on the protests. A call to the press office at Staples’ headquarters in Massachusetts was not returned.

Other unions have joined in the call for a boycott of Staples. The AFL-CIO, which represents 52 unions with 12.5 million members, has joined the boycott. So has the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), with 2 million members. The American Federation of Teachers will vote on a boycott this week at their annual convention, held, ironically enough, at the Staples Pavilion in Los Angeles.

Zint has been joined in the 24/7 action by Carmen Bear, 53, and a handful of others. Zint said they are part of the Occupy movement and spent nine months outside the Federal Reserve building in San Francisco last year.

“It’s all about taking from the people and putting it into the hands of the wealthy,” said Zint. “It’s got to stop.”

Related:
Berkeley mayor to push for civic center overlay to protect post office (06.09.14)
Federal report calls to stop sale of post offices (04.14.14)
Locals, city fight on to stop sale of Berkeley’s historic post office (07.19.13)
Berkeley’s political firmament rallies for post office (05.03.13)
Post Office to sell its downtown Berkeley building (04.22.13)
Council asks for 1-year moratorium on post office sale (03.06.13)
USPS hears vocal opposition to sale of downtown building (02.28.13)
Post Office public hearing to focus on Berkeley sale plan (02.26.13)
Berkeley discusses future of main post office (02.13.12)
Protesters take Save Post Office demo to San Francisco (12.05.12)
Rally held to protest sale of Berkeley’s main post office (11.15.12)
Developer eyes Berkeley’s historic post office (08.01.12)
Chances are slim of stopping sale of Berkeley’s post office (07.23.12)
Postal Service plans sale of Berkeley’s main post office (06.25.12)

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  • Guest

    Life moves on; some people don’t.

  • DisGuested

    Unbelievable. After years of total dysfunction and understaffing at the downtown post office, a much more user-friendly alternative appears, which eliminates the 30-plus-minute waits that are not uncommon at the main branch. And Berkeley responds with… protests!

    These people need to get a life and try supporting themselves for a change. Then they will discover that throwing away hours that could otherwise be spent productively actually affects their quality of life.

  • Biker 94703

    When a business experiences dysfunction and understaffing, the blame rests with Management. If they can’t make it work, they need to be replaced. Eliminate congressional meddling and get a real management team in place, not a political hack of a “general”. If the union has to be busted to make it all work, then get on with it.

  • guest

    Zint is part of a small group of homeless activists that has established
    a camp of sorts on the sidewalk. During the day, they pass out leaflets
    protesting the seven-month old deal allowing Staples to run satellite
    postal operations in 82 stores across the country, including the one in
    Berkeley. They have a table piled with leaflets talking about the deal,
    as well as information about the U.S. Post Office’s plan to sell the Main Post office on Allston Way.
    pretend to care about the post office issue because holding a “protest” allows them to skirt the laws against lying down and camping on the sidewalk.

    Fixed that for you.

    Sad that the NIMBY folks who are actually organizing all this don’t have the fortitude to do their own protesting and are enlisting fringe homeless folks to hold their place for them.

  • Chris

    Unless their protesting addresses the BILLIONS of dollars the USPS has been losing for the past 10+ years, it is all for not.

    Don’t complain unless you have a better solution…

  • sam g

    Who ever said the USPS is SUPPOSED to make money? Do we ask if the U.S. Army makes money? No. We do not because the Army (supposedly) performs a service no other entity can. The” no profits’ argument about the USPS shows how the Republican Party has co-opted the discussion.

  • AnthonySanchez

    The USPS has not been “losing” billions. In fact, USPS is operationally profitable. Where the billions in the red comes from is the requirement by a Republican Congress that the USPS pre-fund 75 years worth of retiree health care payments within a 10 year span.

  • John Freeman

    The action of that “Republican Congress” predictably forced USPS into the kinds of asset sales we’re talking about. Democratic party cronies are no less than others happy to capitalize on it, as you know. The neoliberal, anti-public power-play is a fully bipartisan effort, Barbara Lee notwithstanding.

  • Bill N

    A cute postcard though. I wish i had picked one up when I shopped at Staples this morning. Wonder where they had it printed? I hope it was a local union shop!

  • guest

    If you want to make that comparison when have you ever seen aging hippies demand that the Army keep open some specific base that they’ve decided no longer makes sense for their current operation? When have you ever seen aging hippies demand that the Army keep using outdated buildings or equipment that no longer suits their purposes?

  • sam g

    Most of the useless army bases that citizens have urged remain open are in states like ohio (John Boehner) that do NOT have a surplus of “aging hippies”. I don’t know where you get your “aging hippie” stats!

  • guest

    Which major bases in Ohio do you believe are useless, and based on what evidence?

    http://usmilitary.about.com/library/milinfo/statefacts/bloh.htm

  • sam g

    I’ll do that when you tell me where you got the stats re: “aging hippies”!

  • guest

    What statistics are you talking about? There are none listed in any of the comments you’ve replied to on this issue.

  • Jane Vandenburgh

    The USPS has been losing money, not because it isn’t potentially self sustaining, but because the anti-union, privatize everything, far to the right of the middle-of-the-road Libertarian impulse in Congress saddled it with the need to fully fund its pension/retirement system in a manner that Congress understood was unsustainable, that is, in advance of its retirees’ needs. I do have a better solution, Chris. continue to offer what’s traditionally been a service of the commonwealth to those of us who still believe in the commonwealth.

  • Mbfarrel

    Look for the “Bug” If it’s not there it wasn’t a union shop. Here’s an example:

  • sam g

    That is the problem: I was wondering, since you referred to “aging hippies” twice, where that reference came from…something about “aging hippies” demanding that useless military bases be kept open…What ARE “aging hippies” anyway? People you disagree with?

  • Mbfarrel

    oops

  • Mbfarrel

    Why won’t the image post?

  • A Happy USPS Retiree

    Just for your information, the American Postal Workers Union does not represent carriers. They represent the Clerk Craft, Maintenance Craft, Motor Vehicle Craft, etc. The letter carriers are represented by either the National Letter Carriers Association (city carriers) and National Rural Letter Carrier Association (rural carriers).

  • A Happy USPS Retiree

    To correct my previous comment, it is the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) that represents the city letter
    carriers.

  • guest

    Aging hippies are the primary demographic in Berkeley that’s trying to tell the Post office how to handle its affairs and trying to force them to maintain a decrepit 100-year-old building that no longer suits their needs.

    SOURCE: Check out the photos in any of Berkeleyside’s many articles covering the protests.

  • http://berkeleyside.com Frances Dinkelspiel

    Thanks for pointing out that error. I have corrected the story.

  • sam g

    You still didn’t give me a definition of “aging hippies”. I presumed you got your info from the Journal of the Aging Hippies but I guess you can just look at a photograph of people you don’t agree with and define them as “aging hippies”! Very skillful!

  • Tizzielish

    I believe the real estate firm of one of our U.S. Senators scored the contract to sell off our tax-payer-built post offices. I forget which ones but aren’t both our Senators Democrats who slid into power posing as liberals?

  • Tizzielish

    Geez, if only aging liberals were allowed to direct the post office and undo the insane pre-fund-pensions-for-75-years horror that aging conservative white males, mostly male, mostly white, in Congress shoved down the post office’s throat!

    The pre-funding pensions for 75 siphons off current income, setting up the privatization of this publicly created asset to insiders with connections and money. 75 years? The post office has to pre-fund for employees not even born yet. That’s insane and the work of aging reactionary free-market Ann-Rand devotes. I have no statistics. I am being rhetorical.

  • John Freeman

    They are liberals. U.S. liberals have neoliberal economic beliefs, values and policies. There is no meaningful distinction between the Republicans and the Democrats on this, even in Berkeley. The parties differ a little bit, sometimes, on tax policy, the details of social welfare programs, and some questions of civil liberties. A little bit.

    aren’t both our Senators Democrats who slid into power posing as liberals?

  • Iris Fleur

    I wished the USPS found a way to place these offsite services at public libraries. They could use the additional foot traffic and they usually have user friendly locations.

  • TY

    What if they just moved the Social Security office from across the street then they split the rent? I’m sure the Social security office across the street really hates their dungeon of an office. I’m sure with so many social services, Post office can combine with a few other services as well. The post office doesn’t need the WHOLE building does it?