Mail centers on chopping block make last stand

By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Neither senators nor congressmen nor mayors nor gloom of MoveOn.org stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds — namely, streamlining postal service operations and cutting billions of dollars in deficits.

That could be the U.S. Postal Service’s updated motto, given the political heat from all of the above sources, over the consolidation of 141 mail processing centers nationwide and 82 more in the works.

“If this proposal moves forward, a letter sent within the city would be shipped down to St Paul, sorted, then shipped back to Duluth for delivery,” fumed Duluth Mayor Don Ness on Facebook. “The sham process the USPS has used claimed that the public hearings held over two years ago are now adequate to move forward with closure.”

The post office has lost money in 21 of the past 23 quarters, including a $2 billion loss reported in August. USPS will miss a mandatory $5.7 billion payment later this month to prefund retiree health benefits, a requirement driving part of the deficit.

Minnesota’s hit list includes mail sorting centers in Bemidji, Duluth, Mankato and St. Cloud, all slated to shut down as operations move to Twin Cities facilities in 2015. A similar processing facility in Rochester already made the transition last year, saving an estimated $3.6 million per year.

Altogether, consolidating from seven to two mail processing centers in Minnesota would save about $18 million per year, according to USPS documents.

“Overall mail volume is down more than 25 percent and single piece First Class — the mail you and I send when we pay bills, send greetings, file our taxes — has declined more than 60 percent,” said USPS spokesman Peter Nowacki. “Simply put, we have more mail processing capacity than we need, so we are consolidating facilities to cut costs.”

Nationally, USPS savings from the first wave of consolidations in 2012 and 2013 total $865 million a year. The next round of shutdowns should save even more — $750 million annually.

Eliminating the Duluth mail sorting center would cut $3.9 million in operational costs annually. Yet more than 5,000 people from all 50 states, and as far away as South Korea, have signed a MoveOn.org online petition to save the Duluth facility and the jobs of up to 100 postal employees.

“This is nothing but an attempt by the Greedy corporate right wing to ‘privatize’ our postal system,” wrote Gerald Rust from Indiana.

“No post offices? Are you all on crack?” stated John DeRosa, a Massachusetts resident.

“It’s my opinion that the greatest, and manufactured, threat to our USPS was the requirement the Postal Service pay forward retirement benefits. I acknowledge that many USPS employees are double dippers. This legislation is not required of any other federal beneficiary program,” asserted Nancy E. McWilliams, weighing in from Alaska.

Dozens of members of both the U.S. House and Senate signed a letter — what else — circulated in each body in an effort to get the post office to back off. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., both signed the Senate document requesting a one-year moratorium on mail center closings.

DECLINE OF SNAIL MAIL: USPS says mail volume has declined by 25 percent, leading to consolidation of 141 mail centers with 82 more in the works.

Now up for re-election, Franken all but declared victory for saving the Duluth facility on the Senate floor two years earlier.

“I’m relieved to announce that the Duluth processing center will likely remain open and that the approximately 100 people employed there won’t lose their jobs,” said Franken in a 2012 press release after Senate passage of a postal reform bill.

The freshman senator offered similar assurances at the time to a smaller northern Minnesota sorting center in Bemidji.

“I’ve been fighting to save Bemidji’s processing center since I heard it was on the chopping block last winter,” Franken said. “I’m relieved to announce that it will remain open for the foreseeable future and that the people employed there won’t lose their jobs.”

Critics claim cuts will affect service because of the distances involved in rural areas like Bemidji.

“We are a large, large state and to suggest that nowhere north of Minneapolis would have a sorting center is just stunning to me,” said Rita Albrecht, mayor of Bemidji. “I find that really unfortunate and also unfair. It’s not an equitable way to manage postal service in Greater Minnesota.”

When it happens, USPS insists the public will hardly notice.

“The delivery standard for first class mail will change from one to three days to two to three days. Customers will see little change in when their mail is delivered,” Nowacki said.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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