(July 2, 2014) Public school teachers across the USA are threatening to boycott office-supply retailer Staples during back-to-school shopping season, saying the Massachusetts-based chain’s plan to staff in-store U.S. Postal Service counters with its own store employees will replace “living-wage jobs” with lower-paying positions.
Already, state teachers’ unions in California, Michigan and New Hampshire have called for members to buy school supplies elsewhere this summer. Last week, teachers in Massachusetts also voted to boycott the retailer.
The two large national unions representing nearly 5 million teachers and other school employees meet this month, when they could consider members’ bids to endorse a 50-state action. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is expected to approve a boycott recommendation — it’s already planning a July 12 demonstration in front of Los Angeles’ Staples Center alongside California postal workers. AFT meets that week at the nearby Los Angeles Convention Center.
“The AFT’s 1.6 million members buy a lot of school supplies,” said President Randi Weingarten. “Right now, many of the teachers and school workers who belong to our union shop at Staples. Some of our local unions assist Staples in distributing coupons. We have choices on where to buy school supplies. We may need to start shopping elsewhere.”
Dennis Van Roekel,president of the National Education Association (NEA), told Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in May that NEA’s 3 million members “stand united in unequivocal support” of postal workers. The NEA’s convention in Denver begins Thursday. No official events appear on the schedule, but NEA bylaws allow members to bring proposals such as the boycott to the floor during the proceedings.
Staples spokeswoman Carrie McElwee didn’t immediately respond to an interview request, but Staples Vice Chairman Joe Doody told The Boston Globe in May that the company didn’t want to get in the middle of a dispute between the U.S. Postal Service and its union. He said Staples would continue to evaluate the partnership to determine whether the negative backlash is worth the benefits.
A call to boycott Staples could mean that millions of teachers stay away from the stores — and urge families to do the same — during the crucial back-to-school shopping season. While Staples doesn’t break out back-to-school sales figures, the retailer reported last year that its third quarter was its most successful, according to financial filings. In the period, which includes July, August and September, total sales were $6.1 billion, up from $5.3 billion in the previous three months.
Postal workers in Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, San Francisco and other cities have been staging protests at Staples stores since January, according to the American Postal Workers Union. Mark Dimondstein,the union’s president, said the pilot postal service program, planned for 82 stores, is expected to spread to 1,600 of the retailer’s 1,800 stores nationwide. “It absolutely represents a shift of living-wage jobs to low-wage, non-benefit jobs,” he said. “It doesn’t lower the cost of the product to the customer — it lowers wages.”
The postal union said its clerks are paid an average $25 an hour, while Staples sales associates earn $8.52 an hour, according to glassdoor.com, a career website.