Outstate MN cities fight postal service closings

50 U.S. senators have joined Minnesota mayors in the fight to save four processing centers.

National lawmakers have joined Minnesota mayors in the fight to keep mail processing centers in four outstate cities from closing.

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Postal Service announced a plan to shutter dozens of mail processing centers across the county — including those in Duluth, Bemidji, Mankato and Waite Park near St. Cloud. The consolidations, set to start in January, would save $750 million a year, the Postal Service says.

But the plan is unpopular with local unions and elected officials, who argue that shifting the work to Twin Cities centers will slow service to outstate cities and rural areas, hurting businesses and residents who rely on timely mail delivery.

“The Bemidji community is universally opposed to the move,” Mayor Rita Albrecht said. “Rural areas already have numerous challenges to reaching our goals of being vibrant, successful communities.

“This action by the USPS will pre­sent another hurdle for the region.”


MN Senators Franken and Klobuchar

Last week, 50 U.S. senators, including Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, signed a letter asking a Senate committee to help prevent the Postal Service from closing or consolidating any mail processing centers for at least a year. A similar letter is circulating among U.S. representatives.

As the Postal Service consolidated 141 processing centers in recent years, “service delivery has suffered,” the senators argue. “Slowing down mail delivery even further will hurt senior citizens on fixed incomes, small business and the entire economy.”

Right now, a letter sent from one International Falls resident to another goes to Bemidji, where it’s sorted and sent back to town. “They’ll still get their overnight delivery,” said James Walinski, president of the Bemidji Local 109 of the American Postal Workers Union.  But if the processing centers are closed, that letter would get sorted in the Twin Cities, he said, adding hours of driving time.

In Rochester, where the processing center closed in 2012, a dozen employees went to work in offices within 50 miles, a radius outlined in the union contract, said Richard Haefner, president of the Minnesota Postal Workers Union. A few voluntarily transferred farther away. Many left through an early retirement program, he said.  The closure has clearly upset Rochester customers, Haefner said. Customers who were used to letters arriving quickly are now waiting days longer, he said. Businesses that used to “pay big bucks” for large post office boxes have been frustrated that they’re now filled later in the morning.  “It’s been really terrible for service,” Haefner said. “We have customers coming to the window complaining all the time.”

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