USPS Mail Sorting Consolidation Plans Are Still in Flux as Initial Conversions Approach
Some employees are voicing concerns about the fate of their jobs.
The U.S. Postal Service is still finalizing the details for its overhaul of mail sorting as it seeks to ready facilities for a consolidated workload and prepare its employees for their new responsibilities in the coming weeks.
USPS has identified more than 200 post offices and other facilities to shed some of their operations as soon as next month, as the mailing agency seeks to consolidate those functions at larger buildings. The Postal Service had originally planned to launch its initial “sorting and delivery center” this month in Athens, Georgia, but has delayed that opening until October. It has also delayed a subsequent round of consolidations in February, according to multiple people briefed on the plans. USPS noted the delays were minor and the overall plans have not changed.
Postal management has in recent weeks ramped up its communication with employee groups, but front-line workers and their representatives are still apprehensive about the reform plan and the impact it will have on their jobs. The changes will mean letter carriers no longer go to their local facility to pick up mail for their route, instead traveling farther distances after starting at a consolidated location. The impacted post offices will still conduct their retail operations, but a lot of the back-end functions will be stripped away and relocated. Many clerks will have to relocate to new facilities and some postmasters could be out of a job or forced to find a new one.
Most post offices around the country operate as delivery units, meaning mail carriers go to them to pick up mail and packages for their routes before bringing them to homes and businesses. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has repeatedly decried this model, saying it is inefficient and can lead to as many as dozens of such units in one metropolitan area. Instead, he is looking to open “sorting and delivery centers” around the country, as well as larger mega-centers, that can take on more work in less space.
One individual recently briefed on the plans by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy directly said the chief executive speculated around 4,000 of the mailing agency’s 19,000 delivery units could eventually be impacted. Post offices and other facilities are only expected to consolidate their back end functions if they are within a 30 minute drive of the new center. DeJoy said he was “not naive enough” to think his plan would work everywhere, according to that individual, who praised the postmaster general for his willingness to change course if things do not play out as expected.
“He’s fully committed to saying, ‘If it doesn't work, we’re going to stop doing it,’” the person briefed said. He further quoted DeJoy in saying, “If the calculations were off, we’re going to modify it.”
Ivan Butts, president of the National Association of Postal Supervisors, who was also recently briefed on the consolidation plan, said his questions about the impact on his members have gone unanswered. Butts and others briefed said they have heard promises that assuage some of their concerns—such as retaining postmasters to oversee retail operations at impacted post offices—but USPS has not put anything in writing. The duties of postal supervisors at impacted facilities are going to the new sorting and delivery centers, Butts said, but management has yet to detail what is happening to those employees. He has not been told when his questions will be answered, but in the meantime his members are expressing reservations.
“You see your name on the list if you’re on the offices that’s being consolidated, of course you’re concerned,” Butts said. He added he, too, was at least impressed by the Postal Service’s approach, noting under previous administrations management tended to dive into the deep end without concern for whether they would be able to swim. “In the past it was just full speed ahead,” Butts said. “In this case we’re seeing a little more deliberate action to make sure resources are in place.”
While letter carriers will have to travel farther to take mail to its final destination, DeJoy has said it will save costs on the contracted trucks that USPS hires to bring mail between various facilities. With the routes taking longer as letter carriers travel further, management has told various groups it will have to add some new staff. The Postal Service has said the changes would improve the efficiency of its network, better leverage unutilized facilities and provide better working conditions for postal employees. Kim Frum, a USPS spokesperson, added the longer drives and consolidated sorting centers will make electric vehicles and the associated charging stations more viable. She stressed the changes were evolving, but post offices would remain where they are.
“This process will take time,” Frum said, adding USPS is still evaluating where it will implement the reforms. She did not say how many employees will be impacted or how they will be notified. “The Postal Service will adhere to all legal, statutory, contractual, and regulatory requirements as we evaluate a potential nationwide rollout of this initiative in the coming years.”
In an address this week to commercial mailers, DeJoy said his reforms would make postal operations more repeatable and measurable.
“We will reconfigure our network of 500 processing and distribution centers, 50,000 daily truckloads, 250 daily air flights, 19,000 delivery units, and over 200,000 carrier routes to create the most affordable and reliable delivery system on the planet,” DeJoy said. “Our new strategy will logically sequence mail and package flows between selected new and renovated facilities. And we will standardize operations within facilities.”
One postmaster at an impacted facility said his colleagues have been told they will be provided “landing spots,” but “where and when remain to be seen.” Without firm answers, they are left to speculate about their fate.
When routes are no longer tied directly to a post office it “jeopardizes the job of the postmaster and the clerks that are left behind,” he said. “Chances are they will be forced to do a different job.”
A postal clerk in Columbus, Ohio, said his colleagues are already concerned that an expansion of the initiative could eventually include their facilities. They are worried both about having to bid for new job assignments, as well as no longer being able to provide the same services to customers.
“It’s a big departure from what we have always done and how we serve our community,” Lambert said, adding that “many people will be displaced from the jobs they held for a while.”