Paul Sakuma/AP

Postal Service announces mail processing facility closures

Tens of thousands of employees have learned their center will shut down, as the agency struggles to regain its financial health.

This story has been updated.

The U.S. Postal Service has informed tens of thousands of employees that it plans to close or consolidate the mail processing facility they work for.

Postal Service officials began informing employees Wednesday whether or not theirs was one of the 223 centers slated for closure. There are 487 processing facilities nationwide. Of the 264 processing centers USPS studied for possible consolidation or closure, six remain on hold and 35 will remain open.

USPS announced in December 2011 that it would delay the planned closures until May 15, 2012, in response to pressure from lawmakers and to continue reviews of the facilities. The closures could result in the elimination of 35,000 jobs nationwide. Many of those would be lost through attrition as part of a broader goal of trimming 150,000 positions by next year, USPS spokesman David Partenheimer said.

The agency released a list of the affected facilities Thursday, but said closures remain “contingent upon the outcome of pending rule-making regarding a proposal to revise existing service standards.”

Postal unions and lawmakers said they did not view Thursday’s announcement as final.

“All these actions are subject to the collective bargaining agreement, and could be changed by intervening legislative developments,” the National Postal Mail Handlers Union said in a statement.

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., a co-sponsor of the 21st Century Postal Service Act, would not issue a statement on the consolidation plans due to outstanding factors such as upcoming floor debate on the bill and ongoing union negotiations.

Should the Postal Service and the unions reach a contract agreement on issues like establishing their own health care plan, “it could impact the bill pretty significantly,” Carper spokeswoman Emily Spain told Government Executive.

House Republicans sponsoring the other major piece of postal reform legislation, including House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R.-Calif., issued a statement in support of USPS’ potential consolidation plans.

“If USPS leadership actually goes through with a realignment instead of caving to political pressure again, it will be an acknowledgment that no budget gimmick is going to restore the Postal Service to solvency,” Issa said in a statement. “Keeping your head in the sand and hoping for a taxpayer bailout is simply irresponsible.”

According to The Washington Post, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is stepping up patrols at facilities across the country “in anticipation of potentially adverse reactions by workers as they learn whether their facility is slated to close.”

The patrols were not in response to any specific threat and “officials familiar with the increased security measures said they were based on ‘awareness and sensitivity’ to potential incidents that might arise with affected employees,” the Post said.

The Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of USPS, could not officially confirm or deny reports of increased patrols Thursday.

“We have not beefed up anything,” said Margaret Williams, a spokeswoman for the Postal Inspection Service. “We have had a presence surrounding all of the information in community meetings that have been held for the past several months and our intention is that we will continue to have a presence as the Postal Service releases any type of information.”