Cape postmark could vanish along with jobs

Thursday, March 28, 2013
In this file photo, 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)

U. S. Postal Service employees at the Richard G. Wilson Processing and Distribution Facility thought they would have until 2014 before the facility closed. Tuesday night they were informed the process of moving some operations to St. Louis would begin by summer's end.

Greg Davidson, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 4088, received a call Tuesday from incoming postmaster Mike Darling telling him of plans to phase out of some of the facility's mail-processing functions. After arriving for his evening shift, employees were called into a break room and told of their fate.

Postal Service regional spokesman Richard Watkins said the Cape Girardeau facility is one of about 55 sites moved from the 2014 closure list to a group slated to close this year. He could not provide a timeline for which personnel or operations changes would occur.

Consolidating the center's operations with St. Louis will save the agency $3.8 million annually, according to a Postal Service study. The center has about 100 employees.

A related service issue could be the possible loss of the Cape Girardeau postmark. Unless customers bring first-class, stamped mail into the post office and request a postmark, their mail may not receive one, Davidson said. Without the mark, there will be no proof of when a piece of mail was sent, he said.

As a test, union workers sent four letters from Cape Girardeau, Puxico, Mo., Chaffee, Mo., and Wappapello, Mo. Two received postmarks and two, including the one from Cape Girardeau, arrived at their destinations with none, Davidson said.

Watkins said all first-class, stamped mail currently should -- and will -- receive a postmark, though it may be a St. Louis mark rather than one from the point of origin.

Approximately 12 to 18 "craft employees" -- nonmanagement, permanent Postal Service workers -- could be relocated, Watkins said. They will be offered positions within 50 miles of the facility, he said. They also can choose positions outside that radius, he said, such as current openings in St. Louis.

Fourteen "postal-support employees" -- mail handlers' assistants with 360-day appointments -- may be affected, Watkins said. They will play a role in helping maintain service while "career," or permanent, employees are relocated. Some could be offered long-term positions, he said.

Management at the facility already is short-staffed and no further changes are scheduled, Watkins said, noting information about plans for the remaining Cape Girardeau workforce was not available.

Davidson is not confident new spots will be found for the workers, noting employees have been given "mixed signals" all along.

"When they talked about this last year, there were absolutely no jobs to be had," he said.

Beleaguered by financial problems, the Postal Service has cut annual costs by about $15 billion, reduced the size of its career workforce by 193,000 -- or 28 percent -- and has consolidated more than 200 mail-processing locations since 2006. Many workers have taken early retirement and voluntary separation incentives of up to $15,000.

After the transition at the Cape Girardeau facility, anything mailed in Southeast Missouri will go to St. Louis for processing before being sorted, Davidson said. Weekday mail already is sorted at the facility and readied for delivery by carrier route or by area.

Davidson said customers can expect to see daily delivery delays because of the extra time it takes to route the mail through St. Louis.

Mail from ZIP codes beginning with 637, 638 and 639 are supposed to be received within that area within one day, according to Postal Service "overnight service standards," he said. Mail sent Saturday is not meeting that standard in some cases, Davidson said.

"What we see is some of that mail comes back for Tuesday delivery. Some of that mail comes back for Wednesday delivery," he said.

Watkins said the Postal Service expects the overnight service standards will continue to be met. Much of the mail volume comes to the facility presorted, he said.

First-class, stamped mail accounts for less than 10 percent of mailed items, because of the move by many to Internet communications, Watkins said. In other areas where processing operations have been consolidated, there has been little disappointment about the loss of local postmarks, Watkins said. Senders can continue to bring mail to individual branches and request local postmarking. Watkins said he could not comment on the study conducted by the union workers.

The Cape Girardeau processing center is one of two in Missouri -- the other one in Springfield -- scheduled for consolidation with operations in larger cities. The Springfield facility will merge with the Kansas City center in 2014, Watkins said.

Much of the Postal Service's financial woes are attributed to a 2006 law requiring it to pay about $5.5 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency does. Two bills -- HR630, sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and S316, sponsored by Sen. Bernard "Bernie" Sanders, I-Vt., to create the Postal Service Protection Act of 2013, which would recalculate the amount the agency's retirement obligations, restrict facility closures and enact other service measures, are in committee.

salderman@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

475 Kell Farm Drive, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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