USPS faces bipartisan pushback as it ramps up consolidation efforts
While lawmakers and employees ask the postmaster general to rethink his network changes, the Postal Service is accelerating the reforms.
The U.S. Postal Service is facing intensifying pressure as it prepares to significantly scale up its efforts to consolidate mail sorting into fewer facilities, with lawmakers in both parties and employees warning of the unintended consequences of the plan.
A Republican lawmaker, Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., recently questioned the consolidation plan's impact on his district, saying it lacked transparency and would have negative impacts on mailers. His letter followed one last month from Rep. Pat Ryan, D-N.Y., who said Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was "sadly mistaken" if he thought he could "mess with post offices" in his Hudson Valley district.
The congressional pushback marks the latest resistance USPS has encountered and portends that more questions from lawmakers are likely as more constituencies are impacted. Employees in some areas have staged protests of the reforms, saying it would force relocations and have other unintended consequences. The Postal Regulatory Commission in June rejected USPS management’s bid to block the watchdog from leveling additional scrutiny aimed at the network changes, saying the overhaul could have dramatic impacts on “every aspect of the postal environment” and therefore required review.
The changes, which USPS has slowly rolled out in recent months and will accelerate later this year and in early 2024, 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.
“This one-size-fits-all proposal originating from your ‘Delivering for America’ plan is likely to negatively impact the constituents I represent with a decline in the quality of service,” Huizenga said in his letter. He added the changes would cause the workforce to be "stretched thin," customers to wait longer for medical bills and financial documents and traffic to increase at the new center, while also requesting additional data on USPS’ decision making.
In his letter, Ryan, who recently met with local members of the American Postal Workers Union to hear their concerns, said the consolidation plan for his district—set to take place in February—would threaten "reduced customer service, increased wait times and post office closures." For its part, postal management has said post offices will not close as part of the restructuring.
“I urge you to reconsider this plan with an eye to the needs of our community, who emphatically oppose this change,” Ryan said. “Moving mail sorting away from our local post offices would surely lead to downsizing and reassignment which risks the wholesale closure of a branch.”
Under an agreement with the National Association of Letter Carriers reached earlier this year, letter carriers are set to receive 60 days notice before being moved to another facility and will retain the seniority they have accrued. Clerks who report to post offices are expected to face a more minimal impact, though the exact effects are still being resolved. APWU reached an agreement of its own in June, which confirmed USPS will not reduce retail operations at post offices and set some standards for clerk roles at the new S&DCs. The two sides agreed to continue to discuss the fallout pertaining to staffing levels and "potential excessing."
Ryan called the plan “ill-conceived” and called on DeJoy to reverse it.
“Mail carriers from my district are also particularly concerned about the delays to service, added hours in commute time, and the destabilizing effects this plan will have,” he wrote. “Our community knows that the journey can be long and there are additional risks posed by driving mail trucks on the highway or long distances in the snow.”
USPS piloted the initiative in Athens, Ga., last year and has since expanded it to a handful of locations in Florida, Texas and Massachusetts. The initial phase of the project is expected to impact hundreds of post offices but is expected to grow significantly beyond that total. The Postal Service is planning to stand up 30 S&DCs by the end of 2023 and that number will eventually grow to 400. It estimates each consolidated center will absorb the sorting duties of five-to-10 post offices, meaning the project will likely impact employees and mail sorting at thousands of facilities.
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. 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.
USPS plans to open 60 mega-centers, formally known as Regional Processing and Distribution Centers. It has set up new sites in Atlanta, Charlotte and Indianapolis, and groundbreaking has commenced on other sites. Some facilities will be retrofitted from existing sites at which USPS had ceased operations. Postal management has projected that process will lead to savings on contracted transportation, gas, real estate and time. There remain serious questions about whether his reforms will produce the savings DeJoy has promised, as previous efforts to consolidate facilities led USPS to perform worse while realizing just a tiny fraction of the cost reductions it had anticipated.
“The goal of this initiative is to make significant improvements to the delivery network to better serve the American public and our business customers more efficiently and effectively,” Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman, said of the plan earlier this year. He added delivery routes will be “revamped” to make them “more efficient and cost effective.” Better equipment and improved layouts will also lead to more efficiencies, he said.
The Postal Service will be holding public meetings in the coming months to solicit feedback from affected communities of upcoming changes resulting from the new mega-centers. In Oregon, much of the mail processing will shift to a new such regional center in Portland. That spurred employees to picket at local post offices, fearing their jobs would be shifted across the state.
USPS has said such decisions have not yet been finalized.