Updated 12:35 p.m. ET
The U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday that at least 223 mail processing facilities could close or be consolidated in the coming year as part of a three-year, $15 billion cost-savings plan.
The locations, in some cases employing hundreds of workers who sort mail and prepare it for delivery, stretch from Eastern Maine to the Los Angeles suburbs and dozens of Midwestern communities. In some cases, mail intended for one state will be sorted in another.
The consolidations will affect four processing centers in Maryland, at Cumberland, Easton, Gaithersburg and Waldorf, and three sites in Virginia, at Lynchburg, Norfolk and Roanoke.
Maryland Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D) and Benjamin Cardin (D) said they strongly opposed plans to move some mail sorting responsibilities from Eastern Maryland to neighboring Delaware.
“There is absolutely no statistical or empirical data to justify consideration of this idea,” they said in a letter sent Thursday to Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe.
But in an interview, Donahoe said his advisers spent the last few months studying the feasibility of shuttering up to 264 sites by reviewing network delivery models. The study determined that six sites will require further review, 35 will remain open for now and the affected sites will close at some point after a moratorium on closures ends in mid-May.
Donahoe acknowledged that the consolidation plans remain “very fluid, adding that “none of this is set in stone.”
“What you’re seeing now is a process that we have committed to our employees to go through as part of this consolidation,” Donahoe said. “We want to give it as much time to make decisions about their future.”
If enacted as planned, USPS would eventually operate a delivery network with fewer than 200 processing facilities. The closures could mean the loss of as many as 35,000 mail-processing jobs, mostly through attrition, as part of a broader goal of trimming 150,000 positions by next year. The cutbacks mean USPS will no longer guarantee overnight delivery of some first-class mail.
Donahoe said that making the announcement this week would permit affected workers to begin weighing future options.
“Some people will retire, some may become letter carriers, some maintenance employees may be vehicle mechanics, depending on how things work,” he said. “We are still awaiting some decisions from a legislative perspective that may lead to some changes. But if we don’t get legislation, we would have to start closing locations.”
Legislative action is expected to begin next month when the Senate begins consideration of a bipartisan reform plan that would permit USPS to close thousands of post offices, end Saturday mail delivery and recoup billions of dollars paid into federal and postal retirement accounts.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who led a push to delay any further postal consolidations until May, called the new plans “deeply flawed” because closing processing centers would make the mail delivery even slower.
“Slowing down mail delivery service will result in less business and less revenue,” Sanders said.
As postal workers began learning the details Wednesday night, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service said it planned to step up patrols at affected locations in anticipation of potentially adverse reactions by workers.
Margaret Williams, spokeswoman for the Postal Inspection Service, the Postal Service’s law enforcement arm, said her agency “is sensitive to the issues that concern customers and employees surrounding some of the information that the Postal Service will be releasing. It is our mission to ensure the safety and security of the employees, customers and the mail system.”
Another official familiar with the plans put it this way: “We’re definitely aware of the announcements and the changes — and not everybody likes change.”
But there is no information indicating a specific threat, the official said, adding that in most cases there should no visible presence of uniformed postal police officers standing watch at the processing facilities.
Postal workplace violence still occurs, despite efforts by USPS and the inspection service to clamp down on incidents. A 29-year-old postal employee was charged with two counts of attempted murder in December after police said he fired two guns inside a Montgomery, Ala., mail facility. The worker’s motive was unclear.
The inspection service’s annual report provides other examples: In June 2010, a New York mail handler was charged with attempted murder and first-degree assault after grabbing his supervisor from behind and stabbing her with a pair of scissors multiple times. The mail handler later told inspectors that he had thought about killing his supervisors since October 2009.
A former letter carrier was arrested in May 2010 on attempted murder charges after ramming his former supervisor with a truck at an Albany, Calif., postal facility. The former carrier steered his truck into the supervisor and pinned the supervisor against his own vehicle, then backed up and did it again as the supervisor was trying to escape, according to USPIS.
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