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Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011 07:02 am

Potential post office closures delayed until May 2012

Union says closing mail facility would delay delivery

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The U.S. Postal Service announced Tuesday an agreement to postpone for five months numerous potential post office closings, including two in Springfield.

The Postal Service previously announced plans to close about 250 postal facilities across the country and eliminate next-day delivery of first-class mail and periodicals. The service must cut $20 billion in operating costs by 2015 to turn a profit.

Nine postal facilities in Illinois are on the list of possible closures, including the mail processing and distribution facility at 2105 E. Cook Street in Springfield and the small post office at the Capitol complex, 401 S. Spring Street.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Springfield Democrat, praised the service’s agreement to wait on closures while Congress pursues reform measures.

“Today, the Postal Service has given Congress five months to act,” Durbin said. “It’s now up to us to move forward with comprehensive legislation that does not jeopardize the best postal service in the world.”

Prior to the announcement of the delay, Valerie Welsch, a Postal Service spokeswoman, had said via email that the Cook Street facility would no longer be used to sort mail, but the post office itself would remain open.

A one-page study released by the Postal Service estimates that the service would save $9.9 million by closing the Cook Street facility. The service estimates that 118 postal jobs would be eliminated.

Jim O’Connell, president of the American Postal Workers Union, Lincoln Land Area Local 239 in Springfield, said the Postal Service’s estimates don’t make sense. He said there are 300 workers at the Cook Street facility, so it’s unclear what would happen to the remaining workers.

O’Connell also said the service’s projected $6 million savings in maintenance costs likely refers to building maintenance.

“I don’t know how they would save on building maintenance,” he said. “They would still have people there, so they would still have to maintain the building. It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Joshua Collins, director of government relations for the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce, also questioned the Postal Service’s projected $54,208 savings in transportation costs.

“There will be a significant increase in transportation costs and it does not appear that they are accounting for this,” Collins said. “We’re also trying to figure out how much the bulk rate is going to increase for our businesses and not-for-profits.”

Norman Casson, vice president of the APWU Local 239, said the Cook Street facility is profitable, adding that it ranks among the best facilities nationwide for productivity. He said the Statehouse post office only employs one person and has no overhead costs because the State of Illinois pays for utilities and maintenance.

If those facilities are closed, mail delivery in Springfield will suffer, Casson said, and customers will use the Postal Service less.

“It’s going to push people to do more of their transactions online,” he said.

Casson said most postal employees in Springfield are protected from layoffs by a contract. He said those workers would probably have to transfer to different jobs at other facilities, such as the St. Louis facility which may eventually sort mail destined for Springfield.

“I would have to move down there somewhere,” Casson said. “My wife has a job here in Springfield, so that means she’d have to quit her job, too. We have families with kids in Springfield schools, so all those kids would be gone, also.”

The Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce commissioned a study on the potential economic impact of the closures from the Regional Development Institute at Northern Illinois University. The study estimated that closing the Cook Street sorting facility would remove as much as $42.7 million from the economy in Sangamon County each year.

Sally Davidow, spokeswoman for the American Postal Workers Union, told Illinois Times that the cause of the Postal Service’s financial woes is a federal law signed in 2006 which requires the service to invest $5.5 billion per year in future health care benefits for postal workers.

Bob Gunter, president of the Illinois Postal Workers Union, said the Postal Service is essentially funding health care benefits for workers “who haven’t even been born yet.” Without the federal mandate, Gunter said, the Postal Service would have recorded a $611 million profit during the years spanning 2006 to 2010.

The Postal Service scheduled a public hearing on the possible Cook Street closure from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 28 at Springfield High School auditorium. The hearing was previously scheduled to be held at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Springfield.

Casson said he believes the postal service has already made up its mind to close the facilities.

“I think the post office is going to do whatever they want to do,” he said.

Contact Patrick Yeagle at pyeagle@illinoistimes.com.

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