Derek Quizon is a GOVERNING contributor.
The U.S. Postal Service unveiled a plan on Monday to end next-day delivery for first class mail, a move that could clear the way for the closure and consolidation of hundreds of post offices across the country.
If the plan is approved by the Postal Regulatory Commission, the delivery standard of first-class mail would go from one to three days. The changes would save about $3 billion by 2015, and allow the Postal Service to cut about 28,000 jobs and close about 250 of the nation's 487 mail processing centers. Officials said they could take effect as early as next April.
The USPS made the announcement at a press conference Monday morning, citing a projected 50 percent decline in first class mail between now and 2020.
USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer said the move would allow more time between deliveries, clearing the way for the closure or consolidation of hundreds of mail processing centers across the country.
"It's no longer a challenge of growth -- it's a challenge of staying ahead of the cost curve," Partenheimer said. "The fact of the matter is, our network is too big."
Sally Davidow, a spokeswoman for the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), said the changes would hurt communities around the country and move the Postal Service in the wrong direction.
"They should be trying to speed up and modernize the mail, not slow it down and make it less relevant in the digital age," she said.
The announcement came as no surprise to APWU, which has been fighting plans to close or consolidate offices at town halls across the country. USPS is also considering closures or consolidations at about 3,700 post offices, a plan that has prompted protests from postal service employees and the general public.
USPS is holding public hearings at post offices and mail processing centers facing closure, asking employees and the public for feedback. The reception has been overwhelmingly negative.
On Nov. 30, about 50 people showed up to a public hearing in Muncie, Ind., said local APWU president Doug Brown. Most of them opposed the Postal Service’s proposal to close a local plant and shift mail processing duties to Indianapolis.
The consolidation would eliminate 41 jobs. Brown told Governing he’s worried not only about the immediate job losses, but about the long-term impact the plan could have. The Postal Service could fall behind rivals in the private sector, he said, which could lead to more cuts.
“We’re concerned about the service,” he said. “The way we look at it, if we provide the service, the jobs will be there.”
Plans to shutter a processing plant in Reno, Nev. and shift services to a larger branch in West Sacramento, Calif., prompted a two-day protest leading up to the Postal Service’s public hearing also Dec. 1, which was attended by Occupy Reno protesters.
The proposal would cut 177 jobs, and local APWU president Paul Maille said the icy conditions on the roads between West Sacramento and Reno will cause numerous delays during the winter. He expects the delays to cause an additional $3.5 million in transportation costs.
“Why would a company sit there and disembowel itself?” Maille said in an interview with Governing on Friday. “It seems like they’re jumping over a cliff.”
Kansas state Sen. Jay Emler, who is chair-elect of the nonprofit Council of State Governments, said the plan would be “devastating” to rural communities. Emler, a Republican whose district lies in the heart of the state, said many of his constituents have limited access to the Internet.
“These folks depend very, very heavily on the Postal Service to communicate with the outside world,” he said. “I pay $80 a month for satellite [service], and it’s really affected when there’s rain and wind. I can’t get access to the Internet a lot of times.”
The Postal Service is looking at a $14 billion budget shortfall next year. Earlier this month, U.S. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe called on Congress to pass legislation that would, among other things, get rid of a mandate that requires the Postal Service to pay billions of dollars into a retiree benefit program each year.
One legislative proposal would also clear the way for the Postal Service to eliminate Saturday delivery service, an idea Donahoe is pushing as part of an overall plan to save $20 billion and make the agency profitable by 2015.
Davidow said the retirement payment mandate and overpayment into the Postal Service's pension accounts are the main culprits. USPS leadership should be focused on pressuring Congress to fix them rather than cutting service and jobs, she said.
"Addressing those two things would go a very long way toward resolving the crisis and giving the Postal Service the breathing room and the capital it needs to modernize and to be relevant in the digital age," Davidow said.
But APWU spokeswoman Donahoe, who briefly spoke with reporters at the press conference, said USPS has to face the reality that the demand for its services is shrinking rapidly, and will continue to shrink over the next few years.
People are rapidly turning to online bill pay, for example, and Donahoe said he expects that to become the norm over the next decade.
"The American public pays bills online," Donahoe said. "We can't sit back for another five, or six, or ten years and wait for these changes."
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.