The U.S. Postal Service has postponed its scheduled second round of mail processing center closures, the agency announced Friday, marking a temporary victory for postal employee unions.
Phase two of USPS’ “network rationalization” plan was scheduled to kick in Feb. 7 and would have ended overnight delivery for mail sent and received in the same area. This would have resulted in a major consolidation of processing facilities.
The first phase of the plan was scheduled to close about 140 processing centers and the second phase would have closed an additional 90, according to agency estimates. The Postal Service maintained 487 processing centers nationwide before the consolidations began in 2012.
A USPS spokeswoman declined to comment on the reason for the postponement, but said the agency plans to reschedule phase two at some point in the future.
“The Postal Service will continue working with its mailers and customers on the issue to ensure a smooth transition and give customers ample time to make changes,” said Sue Brennan, the spokeswoman.
USPS has defended the closures as a reaction to reduced demand that no longer requires such a large network.
“The basic logic of network rationalization is that falling mail volumes and the resultant excess capacity in the Postal Service's mail processing network necessitate a major consolidation of the network,” USPS said in a statement when it announced the plan.
As a result of the Postal Service eliminating overnight deliveries, First Class mail delivered in two days would increase from 27 percent to 51 percent and mail delivered within three days would rise from 32 percent to 49 percent, according to a complaint filed with the Postal Service’s regulatory body by the American Postal Workers Union.
APWU also expressed concern about the impact the closures would have on employees’ hours. The Postal Service has vowed to offer positions in facilities that remain open to as many affected employees as possible, but has also resorted to offering early retirement and buyout incentives to tens of thousands of workers.
The announcement could signal progress on postal reform in Congress; the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will move hold a markup of an overhaul bill on Wednesday. The bill -- introduced by committee chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., and ranking member Tom Coburn, R-Okla. -- calls for a two-year moratorium on processing plant consolidations, as well as the termination of overnight delivery.