How Postal Service's cost-cutting moves may affect Phila. area

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The Postal Service is awash in red ink. In September, Patrick Donahoe, postmaster general, talked about coming changes. (Evan Vucci / Associated Press, File)

You've got mail! Just not the white envelope with a 45-cent stamp kind of mail.

Steeped in red ink, the U.S. Postal Service has for two decades grappled with a downward spiral in first-class mail. A surge in e-mailing and electronic billing has leftit with a glut of post offices and mail-distribution centers.

The Postal Service is the core of a broader trillion-dollar mailing industry that employs more than 8 million. That industry includes, among others, private envelope manufacturers, suppliers, and mailing houses — companies that help other organizations prepare their mail for Postal Service delivery. In its 2011 annual report, the Postal Service said it employed 645,950 people.

In the latest cost-cutting move, the Postal Service - which delivers mail to 151 million addresses a day - announced it would consolidate or merge 223 large mail-sorting and distribution centers, including the Southeastern Pennsylvania facility in Wayne, after May 15.

Among the 727 who work there, 254 jobs would be lost. Others would be relocated, and some positions would be eliminated through attrition, said spokeswoman Cathy Yarosky.

With the planned closure of almost half its 461 mail-processing centers nationwide, the Postal Service proposes changing first-class mail delivery to two to three days, thus eliminating the expectation of overnight service, except for Express Mail, which would still be overnight.

Currently, about 41 percent of first-class mail is delivered overnight. But with the planned consolidation of mail processing, it would take two to three days to get mail that used to come overnight, even in contiguous neighborhoods.

The Postal Service has warned it will lose as much as $18.2 billion a year by 2015 unless it gets leeway to switch to five-day delivery, slow first-class mail by one day, and raise stamp prices by as much as 5 cents.

The agency, which receives no taxpayer funding, lost $3.3 billion in the latest quarter and $5.1 billion last fiscal year. That did not include an annual payment of about $5.5 billion to pre-fund retiree health benefits.

"Congress gave us a reprieve in making that payment until August," said spokesman Ray Daiutolo.

In July, the agency said it was looking at possible closure of 3,600 post offices and branches out of 32,000, including 17 in this area.

"Currently, all have been taken off this list" except three locally, Yarosky said.

Those are: 30th Street Train Station (not to be confused with the Philadelphia main post office at 30th and Chestnut Streets), and the Salford and Woxall post offices near Harleysville, which remain on the endangered list. The St. Davids post office has already closed, Yarosky said.

Shuttering post offices is unpopular because they give communities a sense of identity - and provide jobs.

Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.) asked the Postal Service's Office of Inspector General to reevaluate the decision to transfer mail sorting out of Wayne to Philadelphia's mail-distribution center on Lindbergh Boulevard.

Meehan met March 2 with postal workers at the West Valley Road plant in Wayne and pledged to try to keep it open. "Behind me is one of the top 10 most productive mail-processing facilities in the entire country," he told the crowd.

Combining the plant, which sorts mail for two million people a day, with the operation near Philadelphia International Airport will "create a remarkable inefficiency," he said.

Mark Duda, assistant inspector general, wrote Meehan on Feb. 29 that a formal audit was under way to examine the plan to close hundreds of mail-distribution centers.

Duda said the audit staff "agreed to provide additional attention" to consolidating the Southeastern Pennsylvania plant with the Philadelphia mail-sorting operation. But he made no promises.

A.J. Jones, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 2233, said closing the Wayne mail-sorting center would "create a slower mail service, a less reliable mail service, at a more expensive cost, driving our valued customers away."

"This facility works. It does a great job, and it should be permitted to remain open," Jones said.

A mail-sorting facility in Reading is on the consolidation list, and 54 jobs would be lost. Reading's operation would be merged with Harrisburg. Two other postal-sorting plants in the region will stay open, in Bellmawr, Camden County, and Hares Corner, Del.

The Postal Service's Yarosky said: "Our first-class mail volume has been declining significantly since 2006. It continues to decline every year, and we certainly do not anticipate that volume will ever return."

She said the agency would abide by its collective-bargaining agreements and do what it could to reassign workers.

At Wayne, a "bulk mail" unit and a retail post office will remain open. "Those people and those operations will remain at that facility," Yarosky said.

 


Contact Linda Loyd

at 215-854-2831 or lloyd@phillynews.com.