Mail move on hold

Gary B. Gray • Jan 9, 2012 at 11:27 PM

A proposal to move Johnson City’s mail processing operations to Knoxville has been put on hold after a request by 15 Democratic U.S. Senators that a five-month moratorium be placed on closing any facilities.

The United States Post Office, which is holding out hope that legislation may help cure their financial ills, has been on path to eliminate 35,000 mail processing positions nationwide; 33 of those positions are here in Johnson City.

During the moratorium, scheduled to end on May 15, the USPS will continue to study the impact of proposed closures on service and costs, but Congress will have more time to enact postal reform legislation.

In early December, about 150 people attended a two-hour public meeting at East Tennessee State University’s D.P. Culp Center Auditorium. No one there — neither postal workers nor community members — had a positive take on the proposal. In fact, USPS officials lamented the move but explained they were forced to cut costs.

“Johnson City is one of the 250 consolidations we’ve announced,” David Walton, USPS corporate communications specialist, said Monday. “We’ve postponed any closing, and that hopefully will give Congress extra time to help us out. We would like to go from a six-day deliver to a five-day delivery. That would save about $3 billion nationwide. Again, that’s up to Congress. There’s nothing we can do.”

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said in a news release that he was glad the USPS is now delaying the actions and that there is no question that USPS is facing serious financial problems.

“But rather than slashing jobs and services in rural areas, I believe that Congress can and should take steps to resolve some of these issues, and hopefully save some of the jobs that might otherwise get cut,” Rockefeller said. “Particularly as so many families are just trying to make ends meet, we owe it to our postal workers to try to keep as many of them in their jobs as possible.”

Pat Campbell, Tennessee District senior manager of post office operations, presented a short film and PowerPoint presentation at the December public meeting. He then fielded questions and listened to comments, and none came from “happy campers.”

Both City Manager, Pete Peterson, and Johnson City-Jonesborough-Washington County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Gary Mabrey, told Campbell that keeping the jobs and revenue generated by the office at 530 E. Main St. — a building leased to the USPS by the city — is very important.

Should the consolidation with Knoxville go through, all 33 Johnson City jobs would not necessarily be in jeopardy. Some may be reassigned in accordance with collective bargaining agreements. Aside from possible job losses is the fact that a large regional swath of customers who used to rely on their bills and letters being processed in Johnson City will likely soon be hoping that the 222-mile round trip back and forth form Knoxville for that purpose won’t cause them too much added grief.

Proposals under consideration include studying nearly 250 processing facilities for possible consolidation or closure, reducing mail processing equipment by as much as 50 percent, dramatically decreasing the nationwide transportation network, adjusting the workforce size by as many as 35,000 positions, and revising service standards for first-class mail.

The postal service receives no tax dollars for operating expenses and relies on the sale of postage, products and services to fund its operations.

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