A U.S. Postal Service proposal to move Johnson City’s mail processing operations to Knoxville and to cut an undetermined number of jobs here drew a handful of employees to the East Main Street location Monday to protest the action.
“We’ve been brought together in groups and told we’re on the chopping block,” said Eric Gillespie, an electronics technician at the local facility.
The protesters, while relatively low in number, gathered a healthy supply of signatures from local postal patrons, which are being collected on a petition that will be given to legislators expected to attend a Dec. 8 public meeting on the issue.
Protesters say they stand to lose many more jobs at the Johnson City facility than what the public has so far been told. They also are in agreement that local employees are being “steamrolled” into accepting the plan — a plan that will hurt citizens and businesses.
“It means jobs,” said Al Gillespie, a Roanoke, Va., resident who came to Johnson City to support his brother Eric. “They’re doing the same thing in Roanoke. We had a public meeting two weeks ago. The community is up in arms.”
Shifting mail processing operations poses a serious threat to reliable mail service if your ZIP code begins with 376 or 242, said Phil Clark, American Postal Workers Union president, local 365.
When the USPS first announced the proposal in August, it mentioned that 63 employees would be affected. A Nov. 22 release said 33 employees would be affected and more than $2 million would be saved.
Clark said the number is closer to 90.
“The postal service already is acting like this is a done deal,” he said. “They’re already making space for this in Knoxville. They say they’re notifying ‘stakeholders’ about the study, but no one in the community has received anything. A high percentage of mail processed at the Johnson City facility already stays in the area. They aren’t going to cut the cost of a stamp from 44 cents to 22 cents, but they are going to cut services.”
A local feasibility study regarding the consolidation is under way, and the public meeting is the next step in the process. The postal service is holding the meeting to explain the proposed operational changes and potential impacts on service, and to solicit public feedback which will then be considered before a final decision is made.
“If USPS executives get their way, the service the postal employees pride themselves on could be coming to an end for citizens in our areas,” Clark said. “Despite USPS assurances to the contrary, mail services will suffer. Checks and medications may not reach their destination when they are needed; credit rating will suffer because of late bill payments, and birthday cards and gifts will arrive late.”
USPS Corporate Communications Specialist David Walton said mail would travel farther but people should expect delivery times to stay close to the same. All first-class mail should be delivered in between two to three days. Express and overnight mailings would go to Knoxville, but he said the postal service still would guarantee delivery.
The USPS is looking at closing about 250 processing facilities nationwide, a situation mainly caused by the recession. More people are paying their bills online, and first-class mail has pretty much been our bread and butter, Walton added.
The study, which is expected to be completed in early 2012, comes as the postal service faces one of the most difficult challenges in its history. 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 USPS will hold the public meeting in Johnson City from 7-9 p.m. Dec. 8 in the D.P. Culp Center at East Tennessee State University, 807 University Parkway.
Public comment will be accepted through Dec. 23. Written comments can be sent to: Manager, Consumer and Industry Contact, Tennessee District, 525 Royal Parkway, Nashville, TN 37229. Public comment will be accepted through Dec. 23. A summary of the proposal and presentation materials can be reviewed one week prior to the meeting at http://about.usps.com/steamlining-operations/area-mail-processing.htm.