Duluth mail processing center again targeted for closure
The Duluth mail processing center that was spared from a round of U.S. Postal Service closures in 2013 is on the chopping block again.
Employees at the center, on the 2800 block of West Michigan Street, were shown a video of Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe on Monday outlining plans to go ahead with 82 closures nationwide. Included in the closures were Duluth, St. Cloud, Mankato, Minn., and Bemidji, Minn., beginning in January 2015.
“He believes he can go ahead and do it,” said Todd Fawcett, president of the local unit of the American Postal Workers Union. “We are supposed to have public talks, but it looks to me like he’s trying to go around that and wants to go ahead.”
USPS spokesman in Minneapolis Peter Nowacki said because this round of consolidations “is still part of the same process” that began in 2011 with Postal Service Board of Governors approval, no new rounds of public comment are necessary.
“We determined this would be the action we were going to do back then,” Nowacki said. “It was put on hold until now. It’s the same case.”
Nowacki said he didn’t know specifics about the impact on jobs or timelines, other than the process will start in January. In 2012 and 2013, the Postal Service consolidated 141 mail processing facilities across the country in a move to help stop ongoing financial losses.
Sen. Al Franken, who stepped in last time to help Duluth’s center earn its reprieve, weighed in again Tuesday.
“If these processing centers are closed, a letter sent from Duluth to Hibbing would travel all the way to the Twin Cities, and then back up to Hibbing,” Franken said. “That doesn’t make any sense. This will hurt rural Minnesotans, drive customers away from the Postal Service and undercut financial savings. I’ll be urging the Postmaster General to reconsider these closures.”
The news came as a surprise to Duluth employees, Fawcett said.
He said it was especially hard to grasp at a time when the Duluth Postal Service had lifted a prolonged hiring freeze.
“They’re very frustrated,” Fawcett said. “They thought it was done and they could go on with their lives. Now, they’re wondering, ‘Am I going to get stuck having to transfer?’ ”
The USPS said the previous consolidation resulted in negligible service impact and required no layoffs, while generating $865 million in savings. The completion of the consolidation effort is expected to generate $750 million more in annual savings. In the past three years, the Postal Service recorded financial losses of $26 billion.
Once the local facility is closed, Duluth’s mail will be processed in St. Paul. Nowacki said the first-class standard of one to three days will remain intact. But Fawcett argued that moving the sorting process will require patience from customers.
“It’s definitely going to delay it from having everything processed here locally,” he said. “Sending it down there, it stays overnight a day down there. We’re not going to make any service standards.”
Franken agreed, saying overnight delivery to rural areas would not be possible given the proposed change.
The processing center in Rochester, Minn., closed with the earlier round of consolidation. The centers in Mankato, Minn., and St. Cloud, were halved.
The Senate had passed an alternative to the Postal Services’ consolidations in 2012, but the House of Representatives did not consider the bill.
“It’s a shame that the House didn’t even consider the bill,” Franken said. “I’ll continue to push Congress to pass common-sense postal reform legislation soon.”
The previous bill would have restored financial stability to the Postal Service by refunding pension overpayments and restructuring retiree health care benefit prepayments, Franken said.
The cessation of Saturday mail delivery remains another possible cost-trimming measure. Congress has yet to give its approval for that proposal, which would result in only package delivery on Saturdays.