Postal Service deadline for action by Congress passes

Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Ceneca Woods mails a letter Monday, Dec. 5, 2011 outside the Richard G. Wilson Processing and Distribution Facility on Kell Farm Drive in Cape Girardeau. (Fred Lynch)

Bess Johnson, a clerk at the Richard G. Wilson Mail Processing and Distribution Facility, is pessimistic about her future.

"It's just scary," she said.

The Cape Girardeau center, with about 100 employees, was one of 220 set to close until the U.S. Postal Service agreed to a moratorium on facility closures through Tuesday to allow Congress time to act on an alternative.

But the day came and went without any action by the House of Representatives, although the Senate approved a plan to delay closings last month. The Postal Service is expected to announce this week a plan for its processing centers, which could have major implications for the Cape Girardeau facility.

Now Johnson, who was transferred to Cape Girardeau when the distribution center she worked for in Chicago closed, is facing her second move in less than two years. If she loses her job again, her teenage son will have to transfer to his third high school.

"They moved us away from our families to come here. I knew nothing of Cape Girardeau before I came here. I came here thinking I'm going to be stable for a while; now it's the same thing. It's heart-wrenching," said Johnson, who has worked for the Postal Service for 12 years.

There are five other clerks, like her, who were transferred from Chicago and now may be transferred again. They're not sure, though, that there are jobs to transfer to.

"This time around, there's really no place to go because they're closing so many of them," Johnson said.

The Postal Service will unveil a plan Thursday for 252 mail processing centers, including the one in Cape Girardeau, said Richard Watkins, Postal Service spokesman in Kansas City.

"Prior to public release of any additional information, our top priority, as is standard operating procedure, is to ensure our employees are notified first," Watkins said Tuesday.

Johnson said they've been told to expect an announcement, but she doesn't know whether they will say the center will remain open or will close.

Johnson said a malaise has fallen over the distribution center's workers, including herself, as they await the news. It's hard to even get out of bed, she said.

"You still got a job to do, but the motivation to get up and go is not there," she said.

According to the Postal Service's feasibility study, consolidating the Cape Girardeau center's operations with the St. Louis distribution center will save the agency $3.8 million annually.

Decreasing mail volume necessitates changes to the mail processing network, according to the Postal Service. It has experienced a 25 percent decline in first-class mail volume since 2006.

"America needs a financially stable Postal Service to adapt to a changing marketplace and evolving mailing needs," Watkins said. "The steps we are taking now will put the Postal Service on a strong financial footing for decades to come."

The Senate had approved a plan last month to shore up the struggling Postal Service by refunding $11 billion of overpayments it made to a federal retirement fund and allowing the organization to make smaller payments into a future retiree health benefits account.

House Resolution 1351 would solve nearly all the Postal Service's problems, said Greg Davidson, president of the American Postal Workers Union Cape Area Local 4088. The bill has 227 co-sponsors, but House leadership won't let it go up for a vote, he said.

"We're disappointed that we couldn't get a better bill through the Senate, and we're disappointed that the House is just sitting on its hands on this," Davidson said.

He's hopeful that the Postal Service will use the Senate bill as a blueprint for its new plan.

"It would still mean the closure of a lot of facilities, but there's a decent chance we would remain open at least for a few years," Davidson said.

He expects some distribution center closures this summer but that most won't happen until next year, which would give Congress more time.

"A lot could happen between now and then if the political will is there. So far, Congress has not shown the political will to fix the problem," he said.

Last week the Postal Service announced that it wouldn't be closing rural post offices, which was once suggested as a way to save money. Instead, it decided to reduce hours at an expanded number of rural post offices.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

475 Kell Farm Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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