As retirees of the U.S. Postal Service in Duluth, we feel it’s important postal customers are informed about the recent closure of the Duluth mail processing plant.
We remain well-connected, and it appears to us there was a haphazard plan — at best — for the closing. Was there even a true plan at all? Postal customers and employees alike were given information that seemed to change daily, if not hourly. Postal window clerks were left to look like fools as they gave information to customers about the effects of the plant closing and mail pickups, only to have it change, literally, from hour to hour.
The decision to close Duluth’s plant was not made locally, and the management in higher positions who made the decision continue to cite the decline in first-class mail over the past decade as a reason. While the decline is a reality, the Postal Service actually made money this past fiscal year if you do not take into account a 2006 law passed by a lame-duck Congress requiring that the Postal Service prefund 75 years of retiree health benefits in 10 years. The law was called the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.
The processing plant in Duluth was rated one of the most efficient in the nation, and the Postal Service repeatedly was ranked as the most trusted federal agency. Our concern is all that can change — and dramatically so — with ill-planned closures like the one in Duluth.
Some of the information that has been made public has been accurate, but a lot of it has been vague or, as we already said, subject to numerous changes. As we understand the situation, it seems postal customers have been correctly told that mail from Duluth, Superior and most of northern Minnesota and Wisconsin will leave Duluth at 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday to be canceled and postmarked in the Twin Cities.
Customers have not been told that this will be the only truck that will take “committed” mail to the Twin Cities each day to be postmarked. If your mail isn’t in the blue collection box or at the post office by the times posted, the latest being 3:15 p.m. at the main post office on 28th Avenue West, your mail will wait until the next day to leave Duluth. It’ll wait even later on Sundays when no mail is sent.
So, the last-minute local bill you are paying, or the birthday card or sympathy card you mail to your neighbor next door, will not reach them the next day if you get to a collection box or the post office after the designated time. It also could be delayed if you leave it at your mailbox to be picked up by your carrier, since approximately half of carriers will not be back to their station in time to make the truck.
The announcement that some mail sorting would remain in Duluth seems to be true, but only to a limited extent. Much of that mail will still go to the Twin Cities to be postmarked and then come back here to be sorted and sequenced to individual routes. Customers and employees were told that local parcels would remain in Duluth to be sorted. That has changed, we’ve been told: All parcels are being sent to the Twin Cities now for processing.
Local mailings that are prepared in specific ways — like newspapers, bulk mailings and utility bills — will be sorted locally for the time being. This is subject to change at any time.
We won’t even begin to address the bizarre scheduling issues involving mail handlers who usually unload trucks. Their situation is more evidence of a lack of planning or caring for the impact on employees and postal customers.
Letter carriers and postal employees in Duluth and the surrounding area always have taken pride in providing first-class service to the citizens in our communities. We believe postal service changes will compromise that service dramatically. No longer will the price of a stamp provide the same service in the Northland as in the Twin Cities metropolitan area.
We as postal customers, business owners and politicians have spoken out. Sadly, higher levels of postal management went ahead with this ill-planned closure. We ask that you continue to let higher-level postal management and your congressional representatives hear your voices of opposition.
Gaynelle Johnson and Arden Stabs were letter carriers in Duluth. Johnson retired in 2007 after 30 years. Stabs retired in 2000 after 34 years. Both served in various union positions, including as president of the local Branch 114 of the National Association of Letter Carriers and as president of the Minnesota State Association of Letter Carriers. Johnson also served as a regional administrative assistant to the National Business Agent in Minneapolis.