USPS to move mail processing operations to Knoxville

Sue Guinn Legg • Feb 23, 2012 at 10:38 PM

The U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday it will move its mail processing operations at Johnson City’s main post office to Knoxville sometime after May 15, absent any intervening action by the federal government.

The transfer is part of a USPS consolidation plan that will also transfer mail processing in Chattanooga and Jackson to Nashville, Memphis and Atlanta. The Postal Service’s retail, business mailing and vehicle maintenance operations at each of the three Tennessee facilities planned for closure will continue without change. Dates for processing centers’ closings have not been determined and their operations will continue until a schedule is announced, the Postal Service said in a news release.

USPS spokesman David Walton said implementation of the consolidation plan is contingent on any legislative or administrative changes in postal service standards that may be made prior to the expiration of five-month moratorium on facility closings adopted by the USPS in December on the request of 15 U.S. Congressmen.

According to Walton, the consolidation plan is based on a study of 215 USPS mail processing centers nationwide. The study was initiated in response to a 25 percent decline in first-class mail volume that has occurred since 2006, and a corresponding decline in revenues generated by the sale of postage and other postal service products and services.

USPS Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan said the decision to consolidate mail processing facilities was done in recognition of an “urgent need to reduce the size of the national mail processing network to eliminate costly under utilized infrastructure.” While Brennan said, “Consolidating operations is necessary if the Postal Service is to remain viable to provide mail service to the nation,” Wes Cooper, who was transferred to Johnson City in November following a similar consolidation of processing operations in Bristol, said, “They shouldn’t be doing this.”

“The post office is not set up to make money. It’s supposed to be a service and that’s in the Constitution,” said Cooper, who has been making a 120-mile round trip to Johnson City from his home in Damascus, Va., every work day for the past three months. Cooper’s coworker, Bobby Hiner, agreed. “That’s why they call it the United States Postal Service. That’s all we are, a service provider,” Hiner said.

As Cooper anticipates another transfer, Hiner, who came to work at the Johnson City processing plant in 1997 following the closing of the USPS Maintenance and Technical Support Center in Memphis, is considering retirement. “When they closed the MTSC in Memphis, they sent 50 of us across the United States. I moved to here and it cost me $40,000 to do it. At my age, I can’t afford to go out and buy another house some place else. There are a lot of people in here like me. Before they move again, they’ll probably retire.”

Walton said while the USPS agreed to the five-month moratorium in order to give Congress time to enact new postal service legislation, it has continued to take the steps necessary to implement the plan. Steps so far have included public input meetings like the one conducted in Johnson City in January, reviews of information gathered in those meetings, and notification of its employees on Wednesday and Thursday.

Ray Pankonie, branch representative for the National Mail Handlers Union in Johnson City, and Phillip Clark, president of the American Postal Workers Union Northeast Tennessee Area Local, said about 23 mail handlers, 70 clerks and 20 maintenance workers at the processing center here were notified of the decision after reporting to work Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

“Most of the people are a little upset, a little disappointed. But with the information we’ve been getting, it was expected,” Pankonie said. “What we would like is answers. Basically how many people is it going to effect, because most of these guys have families. That’s pretty much all (the conversation) has been on the floor today. They’re concerned.”

Pankonie said while clerks in the Johnson City processing plant could be moved to other jobs in the local area, mail handlers in processing will not have that option. The nearest processing plant is in Knoxville.

“What it boils down to is a lot of people would like to have an idea of what they are going to be faced with later on, and if a move has to be made, to be ready to move then,” said Brian Arrington, another processing center worker. “Yesterday, the district manager was still unsure to the specifics. It’s still pretty vague. No definites yet.”

Information about USPS’s individual mail processing center studies, including its public meeting summaries and reviews, is available at online at http://about.usps.com/streamlining-operations/area-mail-processing.htm.

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