By Mary Wisniewski
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Hundreds of postal workers from around the country protested outside a Staples store in downtown Chicago on Tuesday over a program that allows postal services to be sold at more than 80 Staples retail outlets.
Postal workers have complained about the program for months, saying the "mini-post offices" staffed by non-union workers will result in fewer jobs and hours of work at government post offices.
"The U.S. mail is not for sale," chanted the workers, who were joined by teachers union members.
Last week, Staples said the office supply chain and the U.S. Postal Service would end the pilot program that began in November, but the union says it is continuing under a different name.
"What they attempted to do is convince us we achieved victory and pull back on our campaign," said Rich Shelley, a representative for the American Postal Workers Union, which is having its national convention in Chicago.
The 82 Staples stores in the pilot program will now join USPS's 9-year-old Approved Shipper program, offering shipping and mailing services from USPS and other providers such as the United Parcel Service, said Darleen Reid, spokeswoman for USPS.
Reid said the Approved Shipper program helps U.S. Post Office workers and its customers by providing more service and longer hours.
"It has nothing to do with closing post offices or reducing our workforce," said Reid.
Staples said in a statement that it would "continue to explore and test products that meet our customers' needs."
Melvin Anthony, 63, a postal clerk for 34 years, said at the protest: "It can't help the Post Office. It's hurting us, the workers. It's taking jobs. They're paying these people low wages to handle the mail."
The Postal Service has been plagued by financial troubles as more people pay their bills and communicate electronically instead of sending stamped mail, and as it struggles to pay into a health fund for its future retirees, as mandated by a 2006 law.
(Editing by Fiona Ortiz and Eric Walsh)