Comments ranged from polite concern to full-fledged anger Thursday night at East Tennessee State University’s D.P. Culp Center Auditorium during a two-hour public meeting at which a mix of postal workers and community members offered their opinions on a U.S. Postal Service proposal to move Johnson City’s mail processing operations to Knoxville.
Pat Campbell, Tennessee District senior manager of post office operations, presented a short film and PowerPoint presentation. He then fielded questions and listened to comments from some of the approximately 150 people in attendance.
“I look at this and I ask what it means,” said Kim Hardwick Guy, Tennessee Postal Workers Union president. “It means our bills no longer get there on time. It will hurt newspapers in getting their publications out. It also will have a devastating effect on the elderly and the poor.”
Guy then turned and asked all audience members who favored the move to stand. None did. She then asked those who opposed the move to stand. The reverse happened.
Perhaps the biggest change that would occur should the move go forward is a two- to three-day standard for all first-class mail deliveries. In many cases, a first-class letter can reach its destination — if sent locally — in one day. After the consolidation, a letter mailed from Johnson City to Johnson City would first go to Knoxville.
“Any such move to Knoxville will have an impact on our business,” said Lucas Keith. “If processing at the East Main facility moves, our sales will drop. If this happens I will negotiate with other mailing services, or I’ll move the business.”
Keith stood back from the microphone, rolled his prepared speech up in one hand and slapped it in his other hand.
“This is ridiculous,” he said before walking back to his seat while shaking his head from side to side.
When the phrases “fully utilized work forces,” “radical network realignment” and “mail volume shifting” are stripped down and re-knitted together so a layperson can understand, it means this: the U.S. Postal Service is in deep financial trouble, so it is arranging the elimination of 35,000 mail processing positions nationwide; 33 of those positions are here in Johnson City.
That doesn’t necessarily mean all 33 will be out of a job. Some may be reassigned in accordance with collective bargaining agreements. Aside from probable 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.
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.
Campbell told attendees, “I can guarantee you, decisions have not yet been made.”
A few minutes later, Peterson asked Campbell to be more specific about which operations were staying and which were going. He also asked about the payroll of affected employees, but Campbell said he did not have that number.
“I don’t know what’s going and what’s staying,” Campbell said. “The reality is, since 2006 first-class mail has dropped by 43 billion pieces. And it’s not going to come back when the economy comes back, so we have to adjust for that. From 1970 through 2006 we saw growth every year. We were adding facilities. We’re having to drop them now. This is not a new thing.”
The Johnson City/Knoxville 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. Faced with massive financial losses, it is in the midst of sweeping changes designed to save the organization up to $3 billion a year by cutting its network of processing facilities by over half and adjusting service standards.
Studies, like the one being done in Johnson City, are being conducted around the country as a result of the deep decline in mail volume due to current economic conditions and continuing “electronic diversion.” More people are paying their bills online, and first-class mail has pretty much been their bread and butter.
As a result, the postal service says it has an excess of employees and equipment in some mail processing operations. Meanwhile, the USPS is touting consolidation as a means to improved efficiency, better use of space, staffing, equipment and transportation.
From fiscal year 2001 though the end of fiscal year 2010, the volume of first-class mail declined by almost 23 billion pieces, approximately 42 percent.
More people are paying their bills online, and first-class mail has pretty much been their bread and butter.
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 work force size by as many as 35,000 positions, and revising service standards for first-class mail.
Here’s what to expect at the Johnson City facility should consolidation go forward, according to the USPS:
n Retail services will not be affected.
n Business mail acceptance will remain the same.
n A local postmark will be available for stamped first-class mail.
n Delivery times of mail to residences and businesses will not change.
n The proposed consolidation would support a two- to three-day service standard.