- - Friday, September 5, 2014

Membership in labor unions continues a steady decline. Right-to-work laws in many states guarantee Americans the right to choose whether to join a union or not. The latest strategem by the American Postal Workers Union offers a perfect example of why so many want so little to do with the vanishing few.

J. David Cox, the chief of the American Federation of Government Employees, stopped by a post office in Minneapolis the other day to drop off several hundred postcards addressed to the CEO of the ubiquitous office-supply stores. This was the opening signal of his joining the campaign to “Stop Staples.”

Mr. Cox and the postal union could be working to improve mail-delivery service or find other ways to make the postman relevant in the digital age, but it’s less tiring to promote a boycott of Staples for exploring the idea of working with the U.S. Postal Service to sell stamps and collect packages for shipping. This would make it more convenient for customers to do business with the post office.

That sounds like a good business idea, but the unions fret that postal workers will lose their guaranteed lifetime jobs if someone buys a stamp at Staples. Customers rarely look forward to waiting in line at the post office only to get service ranging from indifferent to lousy. The union would better serve its members by finding ways to make a trip to the post office pleasant and productive.

In the typical show of solidarity, other public-employee unions have joined the boycott, such as it is, including the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The combined membership of these unions exceeds 3.5 million, but the protest is mere puffery. Boycotts against large private companies — especially popular ones like Staples — rarely succeed.

Homosexual activists, with the connivance of an orchestrated media campaign, tried to shut down Chick-fil-A after a devout executive of the chicken-sandwich restaurants said positive things about traditional marriage. The boycott backfired, as many Christians and other conservatives, some of whom had never been to Chick-fil-A before, stopped by to sample a sandwich. The company’s sales increased 12 percent for the year.

Anti-Israel activists called for a boycott of Starbucks because of the Seattle-based coffee shops’ perceived support of Israel. Then, when the company released a statement proclaiming it would stay out of Middle East politics, a pro-Israel lobby promoted a boycott.

Some overcaffeinated conservatives are giving up their venti nonfat vanilla lattes because the chain thinks same-sex marriage is OK. Some lefties won’t set foot inside a Starbucks because the company uses “non-organic” milk, afraid they’ll be poisoned because a Starbucks cow ate “genetically modified corn.” But the coffee hasn’t cooled. Starbucks just concluded its 18th consecutive quarter of same-store sales gains of 5 percent or more.

Some liberals blame Wal-Mart for everything from human rights violations to environmental misdeeds to selling guns (with bullets, no less). The biggest of the box stores nevertheless enjoys a 3 percent increase in sales over last year.

If Staples ignores the postcards, rallies and signs and does what’s best for its customers — and its stockholders — customers will remain loyal to the purveyors of paper clips, pens, computers and other office supplies. The unions could learn a thing or two. By focusing on feathering their nests with silly and ineffective boycotts, they consign themselves to further irrelevance.

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