Ralliers hope to keep Duluth mail processing center open
Amid the throng of people gathered on the steps of Duluth's Federal Building on Monday was Leona Krieg. She was conspicuous at a rally to save the city's mail processing center for what was sticking out of her jacket pocket: a piece of stamped mail.
Amid the throng of people gathered on the steps of Duluth’s Federal Building on Monday was Leona Krieg.
She was conspicuous at a rally to save the city’s mail processing center for what was sticking out of her jacket pocket: a piece of stamped mail.
“It’s a sympathy card,” said Krieg, a lifelong Duluth resident and retired UMD employee. “I mail a lot. I don’t do my bills electronically. I have a grandson and two brothers in Duluth. I believe in the U.S. Postal Service.”
A union worker throughout her career at the university, Krieg believed she owed it to the Postal Service workers to show up in support.
“I get so tired of cutbacks,” she said.
Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe told Duluth workers via video in July that the closure of the Duluth mail processing plant would come in 2015 as a continuation of the service’s reductions started in 2011. Attempts to reach Donahoe for this story were unsuccessful, but his visage appeared on the rally’s placards under a Western-style “Wanted” sign.
Gov. Mark Dayton, speaking first, called the plan to close Duluth’s facility “nonsensical.”
“You shouldn’t be treated this way,” Dayton said.
A closure of the plant would require local letters mailed in the Northland to be sent to Minneapolis for sorting before returning north for delivery. Critics of the plan, like Todd Fawcett, president of the local unit of the American Postal Workers Union, have said a plant closure would compromise the service standard of one to three days for first-class mail.
Fawcett called the rally “absolutely wonderful,” before slamming the postmaster general.
“He slows down the mail without repercussions,” Fawcett said of Donahoe. “If the people I work with did that we’d lose our jobs.”
A petition to save Duluth’s processing center, on the 2800 block of West Michigan Street, featured nearly 6,500 signatures. Rep. Rick Nolan held the thick wad of paper high over his head when he spoke, and said he would deliver it to Donahoe. Nolan called himself the son of a 47-year postal worker.
“You’ve never met a more dedicated group of people,” Nolan said.
Mayor Don Ness said the Postal Service is setting itself up to fail by marginalizing rural service.
“This is not flyover country,” he said. “We are not second-class citizens.”
Pete Nowacki, a regional spokesperson for the Postal Service, declined to be interviewed for this story. He cited a June 30 statement as reflecting the current Postal Service position.
“In 2012 and 2013, the Postal Service consolidated 141 mail processing facilities,” that statement read. “This rationalization of our network was highly successful, resulted in negligible service impact, required no employee layoffs, and generates annual cost savings of approximately $865 million.”
By consolidating 82 more facilities nationwide in 2015, including Duluth’s, the service said in its statement it “expects the completion of network rationalization will generate an additional $750 million in annual savings.”
The service has cited $26 billion in losses over the past three years as driving the cutbacks. But most experts say the service has recovered from the recession and would be a profitable venture were it not for the 2006 legislative mandate that made it annually pre-fund retirement benefits out to 75 years - a $5 billion to $6 billion chunk each year.
One speaker at the rally called for a legislative solution to the mandate, rather than “mindless downsizing.”
The Duluth plant employs about 70 workers. Kurt Waite is among them. He spoke at the rally. Asked afterward if the rally will help, he said, “I don’t know if it will, but we have to try and make our voices heard.”