USPS plans could mean more jobs in Milan

Originally Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011, 4:33 pm
Last Updated: Sept. 16, 2011, 5:43 pm
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By Stephen Elliott,

Job cuts and consolidation by the U.S. Postal Service could mean more positions at the Quad-Cities Processing and Distribution Center in Milan.

But those jobs would come at considerable cost, according to Bruce Clark, Iowa state president of the American Postal Workers Union affiliated with the Milan Distribution Center.

The USPS is studying ways to consolidate or close 250 processing facilities, including the Cedar Rapids Processing and Distribution Facility. Operations there could end up at the Milan distribution center.

While Mr. Clark said the proposed consolidation would likely mean additional jobs at the Milan facility, "unfortunately, it already means all of these relocations or closings are accompanied by the postal service also changing delivery standards and slowing up mail all over the country.

"All this comes from a highly questionable financial crisis," Mr. Clark continued. "It's the storyline the public gets, that we're another semi-government entity that can't make it.

"I can't imagine doing this as a business approach -- get people to use our service more, but let's cut back on our service," Mr. Clark said. "They're (USPS) trying to close post offices all over Illinois and Iowa."

Richard Watkins, a USPS spokesman who works out of Overland Park, Kan., said the Milan consolidation is speculation until a three-to-four month feasibility study is completed by the USPS. Public meetings also will be scheduled as part of the review process, he said.

"The Quad-Cities has a significant space advantage," Mr. Watkins said. "We haven't begun the review. Potentially, there will be more jobs (in Milan). But, it's too soon to say.

"We can't speculate," he added. "We will work with the unions to minimize the impact with employees."

Mr. Watkins said the Quad-Cities center employs about 120 workers and the Cedar Rapids facility has about 150.

On Thursday, the USPS announced it was proposing changes to save $3 billion a year by cutting its network processing facilities by over half and adjusting service standards.

Mr. Watkins said there is no way to sustain the current levels of service. Since 2006, the USPS has closed 186 facilities, removed more than 1,500 pieces of mail processing equipment and decreased employees by 110,000 through attrition, according to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe.

The USPS said mail volume has declined by more than 43 billion pieces in the past five years and is continuing to decline.

"Most people know our volume is down," Mr. Watkins said. "What they may not know is that we've had 200 million fewer visits to post offices nationwide since 2006."

As a result, area post offices also have felt the impact. The Geneseo Post Office has announced reduced hours and several other area post offices are fighting suggestions they be closed.

The downtown Moline Post Office building is for sale. Mr. Watkins said the USPS would be amenable to working out an agreement to rent space there.

"Depending on the new owner, if they can accommodate and rent space back to us, that would work for us," he said. "The building is way too big for us at this point given our financial circumstances."

Both USPS and the union concede delivery service will be impacted with any future cuts. The mail processing network was constucted to process and deliver First-Class Mail within a one- to three-day window, depending on where the mail is sent and delivered.

Under proposed changes, the new service standard would become two to three days, according to the USPS. Customers would no longer receive mail the day after it was mailed.

Mr. Clark said a major problem is government requirements for pension and health coverage funding, standards he said are not realistic. Those requirements have left pensions overfunded by $50 billion, Mr. Clark said.

Mr. Watkins said the USPS wants Congress to return those overpayments to the USPS to help supplement flagging operations. Mr. Clark said the unions don't want to give those pension payments back to the postal service, but instead, use some of that funding to pay for its mandated health care payments.

"Essentially, we've been required by Congress to pre-fund health benefits of people who haven't been born yet," Mr. Clark said.


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