Officials worried about impact on jobs, delivery, election ballots
With the decision to move mail sorting operations from Eureka to Oregon, community members and officials have voiced concerns over how it will impact residents, businesses, post office employees and mail delivery.
U.S. Postal Service spokesman James Wigdel said the overall impact of the move to Medford — which is set to resume in January 2015 after being put on hold for the last year — will be minimal and won’t affect the local post office or PO boxes.
“The post office isn’t closing or moving,” Wigdel said. “The only thing moving is the mail sorting operations. No one will be laid off. However, there will be positions that may be eliminated, but we will work with the employees to find another position.”
The decision to consolidate a number of mail sorting facilities across the nation was made in 2012 in response to a 25 percent decline in first-class mail since 2006, according to Wigdel.
“In 2012 and 2013, we consolidated about 141 mail processing facilities and wanted to look at the impacts on services and stabilize the network before continuing with phase two, which was to finish consolidating,” Wigdel said. “We’re going to begin consolidations again in January 2015 and will finish sometime in the fall, but I don’t have a date for Eureka. Once all the consolidations are finished, we expect delivery rates to go up a little from an average of 2.14 days to 2.25 days.”
Humboldt County Fifth District Supervisor Ryan Sundberg said he would prefer to see sorting operations left as is.
“It seems highly counterintuitive to have local mail leave Eureka, go up to Medford and then come back down,” Sundberg said. “The postal service is a government function, and if it costs a little more to do it the way it is, then that’s what we need to do.”
American Postal Workers Union local President Mike Hetticher said the consolidation all stems from the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 that requires the postal service to fully fund retirees’ health benefits for 75 years into the future.
“The postal service is paying over $5 billion a year for this,” Hetticher said. “The postmaster general is basically throwing a tantrum because he’s not getting his way with legislation and is using consolidation to save $750 million a year, according to their report. But if the postal service would expand to offer financial services like banking, an Inspector General report found that we could bring in $9 billion.”
Hetticher added the number of employees being affected by the consolidation isn’t accurate.
“Originally, we were told that 10 employees would be affected and now they’re saying that none will be,” Hetticher said. “In all honesty, I feel like 22 jobs will be impacted, 12 of which will be non-careers jobs — which are positions that could lead to a permanent position but doesn’t have a lot of the benefits or job security. This will definitely impact them.”
Greater Eureka Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Don Smullin said a major area of concern is what’s going to happen with the jobs.
“We just lost a lot of jobs when Green Diamond closed,” Smullin said. “It’s bad for the economy when we lose any jobs, and right now it’s unknown how many jobs we’d lose.”
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn said he has heard from people working at the post office that they were told months ago they wouldn’t be losing their jobs.
“Good local jobs were taken on by good local people, and this is a tough deal for all of us,” Bohn said. “It not only affects how the mail is delivered, but it really affects our friends and neighbors. We all know someone that works at the post office.”
Hetticher said another real problem is that there are people are on fixed incomes that mail bills across town but now it will go from Eureka to Medford and back.
“I don’t see how that’s going to work because now there is the possibility of late fees,” Hetticher said. “Right now it takes one day to send mail, but going through Medford it could take three to seven days, we don’t know and no one has been able to answer that. The postal service has said there will be a two- to three-day standard for delivery, but I don’t see how that’s going to work. It hasn’t worked anywhere else.”
Smullin added that businesses and customers will also be affected by the move.
“Larger companies will use FedEx to send out their mail, but smaller companies rely on the post office,” Smullin said. “It’s important that small businesses get paid in a timely fashion because they don’t have the reserves to cover if they don’t receive bills. They can’t just tell employees they didn’t receive customers’ payments so they’re not going to get paid. If mail is delayed going out for businesses, then it also delays cash coming in. For consumers, if they get a credit card bill late then they’ve already incurred late fees.”
Smullin added that Humboldt County is unique in that it’s rural and isolated, so there could be issues if weather causes the highways to close down.
“I’ve been in touch with a lot of community members and a lot of people in the outlying areas that don’t have Internet services and rely heavily on the mail,” Hetticher said. “This is really going to affect them.”
Wigdel said the postal service deals with inclement weather all over the nation, from tornadoes in the Midwest to hurricanes on the East Coast.
“Weather does affect delivery from time to time, but if there’s a delay, we’ll do our best to make sure there’s as little a delay as possible,” Wigdel said. “Weather has come up in the past, but we deal with it as it comes and we do our best to get it out.”
Bohn said the scary part about possible highway closures is that a lot of mail is local bills, and by moving the sorting operations, it could put as much as a three-day jump on delivery.
“There could also be an effect on election ballots, and people would have to send in their ballots earlier than before,” Bohn said. “I think it opens more doors on failures than success.”
Humboldt County Registrar of Voters Carolyn Crnich said more than 50 percent of Humboldt County voters are permanently registered to vote by mail, and state law says election ballots must be in her hands by the time polls close.
“As it is now, the local post office has been very helpful, and we’ve had someone on our staff there to collect any ballots that may have come in after mail delivery for that day,” Crnich said. “In the last election, we did receive 90 or so ballots after two or more days after the election because people mailed them out late. It’s never been alright to mail ballots late, but now, people should really pay attention to the warnings to send in their ballots early.”
Crnich added that people are passionate about how elections are conducted and who is elected.
“When the post office held a meeting here a year ago, I brought up that elections are a sensitive thing and if someone feels disenfranchised, there will be a lawsuit over it,” Crnich said. “My primary mission is to avoid that. If it should happen because of the move on the part of the postal service, and if I was still in office, I would be more likely to take the side of the voter against the postal service.”
Smullin said there could be another side to look at, which is making Eureka the hub instead of Medford.
“If Eureka was the hub, we’d have more business and more jobs,” Smullin said.
Hetticher said the union is planning on fighting this to the very end.
“There’s going to be a ripple effect throughout the community, and there may be things we haven’t even thought of yet,” Hetticher said.