Jan. 20, 2014 -- Would you rather do your mailing at:
A.) The Post Office
C.) What's mail?
If you answered B, you're in luck, because the Post Office has plans to cut lines and add more hours by offering mailing services at Staples stores. If you answered C, you are one reason why the Postal Service is losing billions of dollars every year.
The embattled U.S. Postal Service, which has been mostly unable to convince Congress to make changes to put it on a firm financial footing by offering extra services and cutting underused local offices, says the Staples deal would be a win-win for customers and employees.
While Staples stores might not be the happiest places on earth, at least they're open at time when local post offices aren't, says Dave Partenheimer, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service. The Postal Service is betting that customers will appreciate the convenience of going to their local Staples store for products and service offered at the same prices as their local postal office.
"Today is a perfect example. It's a federal holiday so our Post Offices are closed," Partenheimer said. "But in those alternative access places customers can still buy stamps, mail packages, and take care of other postal business today. The same is true for Sundays at many of those locations."
As nice as all this might sound for customers, the postal union says this idea should be returned to sender.
On Friday, postal service union leaders delivered angry letters to Staples stores in California that are participating in a pilot program that provides mailing services in more locations for customers.
"Only U.S. Postal Service postal employees are fully accountable to the public, and sworn to uphold the sanctity of the mail," the letter said.
Whether the weekly mailers for your local Piggly Wiggly have sanctity is open for debate. And while the American Postal Workers Union is peeved that these retail centers are not staffed by union workers, Partenheimer said that besides offering customers convenience, they're just one of the ways the postal service is trying to stem its net loss of $5 billion in its last fiscal year, the seventh consecutive year in the red.
How do Staples employees feel about the dispute? Not all of them are happy, especially about extended holiday extended hours. You know, the time of the year when folks want to mail packages the most. A Staples employee started a Change.org petition with about 8,400 signatures asking the company to remain closed on Thanksgiving.
The APWU said its delegation was "received and treated cordially at all stores except Berkeley," where "there has been a great deal of community opposition to USPS efforts to sell the historic post office."
A spokeswoman for Staples, headquartered outside Boston, Carrie McElwee referred ABC News to the USPS regarding concerns of union members. She said Staples "continually tests new products and services to better meet the needs of our customers," and the company doesn't provide details on pilot programs or agreements with vendors as a matter of policy.
In November, the Postal Service launched this pilot program with 84 Staples stores in California, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Georgia to provide postal products and services. Partenheimer said "no APWU jobs have been impacted by the pilot partnership with Staples."
"The concept of this new retail partnership is a direct response to the changing expectations of customers who demand greater convenience," Partenheimer said. "That is why service providers, such as banks, dry cleaning, doctors and major retail chains are partnering together to provide that one-stop shopping experience that many customers demand."
He added that the Postal Service already has partnerships with more than 65,000 retailers to provide alternative access to postal products and services. Contract Postal Units and Village Post Offices have never been staffed by USPS employees, he said.
"The Postal Service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses, and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations. This retail partnership program could be an innovative step towards generating revenue to ensure the long-term viability of the Postal Service," Partenheimer said.