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'Flat mail' brings new life to Encoding Center

Duluth's postal encoding center has added another 100 jobs, bringing the total number of people who work at the West Duluth facility up to 544 people.

Duluth's postal encoding center has added another 100 jobs, bringing the total number of people who work at the West Duluth facility up to 544 people.
The new positions are normally added on a temporary basis this time of year to handle the extra holiday mail. But instead of letting those people go after the holidays, the facility's manager, Donna Skuborstad, says she will retain them in anticipation of adding "flat mail" to their workload.
Mail is termed "flat mail" if it's bigger than a legal-size letter and up to half-inch thick. Anything mailed in a manila envelop and most magazines are considered flat mail.
Including flat mail in the workload means another 150,000 pieces of mail per day will be processed at the Duluth site, bringing the total to around 450,000 pieces of mail per day.
Most mail is sorted by machine. But machines cannot always read mail that is hand-addressed. This mail is viewed remotely through a computer screen by employees at the postal encoding center and sorted that way. Mail at 11 different processing plants, including Springfield, Mo., St. Louis, Mo., St. Cloud and St. Paul, is sorted at the Duluth center.
Earlier this year, postal encoding centers in Des Moines and Davenport, Iowa, were closed, and the postal encoding center in Duluth and another in Wichita, Kan., picked up their workloads.
"The reason we were not consolidated is the excellent work ethic in this area and an excellent hiring base," Skuborstad said. "They looked at those things when making the decision."
The future of postal encoding centers is in some doubt as technology advances, because machines will become more sophisticated and will be able to read more types of handwriting. It is not known if the addition of flat mail at the Duluth site will improve its prognosis.
But as Skuborstad says, "It certainly can't hurt it."
This month's increase in employees marks a turnaround in the trend over the last few years of decreasing numbers of workers at the Duluth site.
The Duluth postal encoding center is expected to begin processing flat mail on Jan. 7.

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