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So far, the Postal Service has rebuffed the union’s demands.

As far as who will staff the counters, “that’s Staples‘ business. They make their own business decisions and it has nothing to do with us,” Donahoe said.

Donahoe said he’d like to see post office counters in every Staples store “as soon as possible.” But he doesn’t see them as replacing any of the 33,000 traditional post offices. He said he sees the program as an opportunity “to grow the business.”

James O’Rourke, a professor of management at the University of Notre Dame, said the Postal Service is simply following the trend of other businesses such as banks and medical clinics opening in grocery and drug stores to get more customers and save overhead costs.

“You can’t blame the union for looking suspiciously at this move, but from the perspective of postal management and postal customers, this is all good,” O’Rourke said.

Donahoe acknowledged that it could save money in employee costs, but insisted that is not the agency’s motivating force. Since 2008, the Postal Service has reduced its employees by more than 200,000, mainly through attrition.

“Keeping our expenses down is no different than what any other business would do,” he said.

Back in 1988, the Postal Service tried a similar plan to put retail units in Sears stores in Chicago and Madison, Wis. APWU members picketed Sears headquarters in Chicago, mailed thousands of letters of protest to then Sears Chairman Ed Brennan and even cut up their Sears credit cards.

The pressure worked and a year later the program ended, with Sears saying it did not want to be at the center of a dispute between the Postal Service and the union. But the APWU’s membership now is almost half of what it was 25 years ago, and unions don’t carry the same clout they once did.

Dimondstein, who took the helm of his union in November and pledges a more activist approach, insists his members will bring considerable pressure on Staples.

“I think we have a lot of clout,” he said. “We’re in every hamlet, town, city and state in the country.”

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Follow Sam Hananel at www.twitter.com/SamHananelAP