The U.S. Postal Service frayed nerves Monday with talk of downsizing and diminishing first-class mail service, but officials insisted that no final decisions had been reached about closing more than 250 regional facilities, including large centers in the Philadelphia area.
The Postal Service announced its intention to seek the Postal Regulatory Commission's opinion on $3 billion worth of cuts. Among the regional postal facilities under consideration for closure are centers in Tredyffrin Township (Chester County) and Bellmawr (Camden County), which employ about 1,600 people combined.
Those facilities are subject to Postal Service "studies" to determine whether their closure would increase efficiency.
While the Southeastern Pennsylvania Mail Processing Center in Tredyffrin Township survived similar studies in 2009 and 2010, the union chief there was wary.
A.J. Jones, president of the Eastern Montgomery County Pennsylvania Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union, said his nearly 600 members at the 800-employee center have heard that the plant's closure was a "done deal," which he did not think made sense.
Jones said that sending mail from Chester County to the Postal Service facility on Lindbergh Boulevard in Southwest Philadelphia would not increase efficiency.
"Let's look to see if we're going to get a savings," Jones said of the study. "But for the life of me, I just don't see it."
In New Jersey, South Jersey Area Local President Bill Boyle is still recovering from the closure of the processing facility in Swedesboro in 2009-10, which was preceded by repeated denials that it would happen, he said. He has 400 members of about 800 employees at Bellmawr.
"There was always a rumor, and every time we looked into it, we were told it wouldn't close," Boyle said. "Are people going to say nothing's happening, and then walk in one night and deliver the news?"
The union's national contract, signed this year and running from 2010 through 2015, has a no-layoff clause that Congress could legislate away. But that does not appear likely in an election year.
Still, even employees who are redeployed can end up in places such as Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, or Virginia, Boyle said.
Facilities under study, first named Sept. 15, include 10 in Pennsylvania, six in New Jersey, and one in Delaware. The Postal Service center in Horsham was originally among those listed but has been taken off.
Those sites are still under study, and any closures are likely to be months away, according to USPS spokesman Raymond Daiutolo Sr.
"It's kind of premature to say it's a done deal," he said.
For the Bellmawr facility in Camden County, the study is analyzing potential cost savings by merging its operations with the Southwest Philadelphia center near the airport, Daiutolo said.
But the study is not done, and a public meeting has not yet been scheduled.
Delaware's only center on the list, in New Castle, might also see its workload shifted to Philadelphia.
In Pennsylvania, others under study are in Lancaster, Reading, Scranton, Williamsport, Altoona, Greensburg, New Castle, Pittsburgh, and Erie.
The planned changes would drastically reduce one-day delivery for first-class mail. Currently, 42 percent of first-class mail is delivered in one day, according to the USPS.
The delivery time and facilities issues are clearly related.
Proposals under consideration also include reducing mail-processing equipment as much as 50 percent, dramatically decreasing the nationwide transportation network, adjusting the workforce size as many as 35,000 positions, and revising service standards for first-class mail.
"The U.S. Postal Service must reduce its operating costs by $20 billion by 2015 in order to return to profitability," David Williams, network operations vice president, said in Monday's news release. "The proposed changes to service standards will allow for significant consolidation of the postal network in terms of facilities, processing equipment, vehicles, and employee workforce and will generate projected net annual savings of approximately $2.1 billion."
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