Postal Service consolidation uproots workers

Jeff Chiu/AP File
The U.S. Postal Service's plans to consolidate operations to reduce costs are forcing some workers to move to new cities or take inconvenient shifts to keep their jobs.

Combining mail processing facilities and delivery routes allows the Postal Service to increase efficiency in the face of declining mail volume, said Greg Frey, a spokesman for USPS. The agency in March outlined a 10-year plan to streamline operations, including measures such as five-day delivery, changes to retiree health benefits funding requirements and building a more flexible workforce. Postal officials have said the agency must be able to adjust work hours quickly and use more part-time staff to reduce labor costs, which amount to more than 75 percent of total expenses.

"As you look at things like delivery units, with less mail in particular, you have to find ways to make the delivery process more efficient," Frey said. "Less mail, less volume -- rather than having people idle, we need to make sure there's work for everyone to do."

According to Dick Collins, assistant to National Postal Mail Handlers Union President John Hegarty, employees are declared to be excess when there isn't enough work to keep them at a consolidated facility. They then have the option to look for a job at a different plant, or leave the Postal Service with severance pay, he said.

Frey said USPS has moved forward with plans to consolidate processing and delivery operations in central areas. Having only one location reduces transportation costs and redundancy in delivery needs, he said, adding job security for workers in these facilities is regulated in the collective bargaining process.

Collins noted while consolidation doesn't necessarily result in job cuts, it is disruptive because workers are forced to change their hours or to move locations. For example, supplemental workers who aren't career USPS employees and part-time flexible staff who don't follow a regular 40-hour schedule are the first to feel the changes, while those who work days are considered excess and moved to night shifts.

The impact is significant, particularly for people who have family obligations, such as elderly parents who require care, or those who have had long careers with the Postal Service only to be pushed back to night shifts, Collins said.

The biggest hardship is moving hundreds, even thousands of miles to a new facility, said Sally Davidow, spokeswoman for the American Postal Workers Union, to work a "different job, different shift, different location.

"It takes its toll," she said, adding the stressful experience is a way to reduce the workforce.

Frey said he expects the consolidation of processing operations and carrier schedules to be continued, but noted USPS isn't focused on reducing its retail presence or limiting public access to services. An initiative last year to consolidate postal stations and branches resulted in very limited closures, though officials could revisit that in the future, he added.

"The bottom line is you keep the job, but it gets a lot more complicated and you have to make changes in your life to meet the needs of the Postal Service," Collins said.

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