Cutbacks have been a fact of life for U.S. Postal Service operations across north central Ohio for several years now. Mail-processing operations left Mansfield for Cleveland in 2012. And small, rural post offices in Crawford County villages like Chatfield have seen their office hours drastically cut.
Some mail delivery has suffered as a result, but much of it hasn’t. Same-city mail — originating in and terminating in Mansfield, for instance, or Bucyrus — still arrives overnight. That’s now about to end, as phase two of what the USPS calls its nationwide network rationalization takes effect in January.
As it continues to grapple with a precipitous decline in mail volume, the Postal Service will close 82 more mail-processing centers across the country early next year, the latest in a series of such moves. More mail delivery across north central Ohio will now start to suffer as a result.
“Mail will no longer have that overnight commitment. Mansfield to Mansfield, for instance, could now take two to three days. Newspapers, which had a two-day commitment, could take as many as eight days, parcels will be 10 days max,” Michael Rellinger, northwest Ohio branch president of National Postal Mail Handlers Union Local 304, said.
“Mail will now have to sit a day or two until they’re caught up.”
Mansfield’s mail will continue to go through Cleveland, but now Akron’s will as well, increasing the volume at that processing facility. Dayton’s mail have to travel to Columbus. Mail that used to end up at the center in Toledo will now head to either Columbus, or Detroit or Pontiac in Michigan.
Over the past decade, the USPS has watched its single-piece, first-class mail — such as letters, greeting cards and bills — drop by 53 percent as more, especially younger, Americans manage those tasks digitally.
“The fact is that U.S. mail is changing. The Postal Service understands it must make operational changes to meet the changing needs of the American public,” David Van Allen, a USPS spokesperson in Cleveland, said.
“The Postal Service has significant excess capacity in its network and cannot sit idly by and do nothing. In the process, the Postal Service has sought to minimize impact to customers and employees.”
The new processing facility closures coming in 2015 will not result in job losses for career employees, Rellinger said, although many will find themselves reassigned. As for postal customers, the impact of the closures will be felt in other ways.
“Delays will be especially noticeable in rural areas and smaller towns. Many of them have already lost their postmasters and now have reduced window hours. That time frame has already narrowed quite a bit,” Rellinger said.
“Others who will be impacted are nonprofits and small businesses. They got a substantial discount when they dropped off their mail at the point of processing. That goes away. In the case of nonprofits, this could be a game-changer. Small companies could be taking a huge hit.”
Van Allen said the network rationalization’s two phases will save the U.S. Postal Service $2.1 billion annually when all is said and done, or $20 billion by 2017. He noted that the price of a stamp, now 49 cents, is not going up, and that priority mail and package services won’t be affected by the new cutbacks, including medication delivery and small business shipping.
But Rellinger begs to differ.
“Time-sensitive legal, court and election documents are already experiencing delays. An increasing number of time-sensitive medications and parcels would no longer enjoy a processing network capable of moving e-commerce across the nation,” he said.
“In an era of speedy, time-sensitive e-commerce it is counter-intuitive to have the post office slow down mail delivery. Once put into place these changes permanently damage our network going forward.”
The USPS lost $5.5 billion in the last fiscal year, yet its revenue was up by $569 million. The agency is unique in that it’s essentially a private enterprise, but takes marching orders from Congress, which requires it to pre-fund the health care obligations of all its retirees going forward, a mandate that set the Postal Service back $5.7 billion this year.
“That’s the major reason for this. No other business, public or private, has to accomplish that. We don’t see a need for this to continue,” Rellinger said.
Last year the Postal Service attempted to cut back by asking Congress to allow it to drop Saturday mail delivery; public opinion polls at the time found no national outcry over the change. But the legislative branch of the federal government never got around to addressing the proposal.
“In the past three sessions of Congress there have been honest attempts to enact comprehensive postal reform, but the legislation (including more than a dozen bills in the House Oversight Committee) hasn’t made it out of committee. Because of that we’ve had to cut to the bone,” Rellinger said.
The union rep hopes the current lame-duck Congress can be persuaded to issue a moratorium halting the cuts slated to take effect in January, although some employee relocations are already in the works. And he wants the Postal Service’s customers to do their part.
“I think they’re sympathetic, but it’s critical that they have the information to understand why this is happening,” Rellinger said. “Most people aren’t aware of that $5.7 billion commitment. They can make a difference by contacting their representatives in Congress.”
Although phase two of the USPS cutbacks is the first projected to have an impact on mail delivery, a recent report from the federal General Accounting Office found delivery standards actually started to suffer in 2012. That’s no surprise to Rellinger.
When the processing facility in Lima closed in 2010, “it was the largest in volume and greatest in distance attempt to streamline the processing network,” he said.
“What resulted was unprecedented chaos. I know. For more than two years we worked 80-plus hours a week, seven days a week, to try to maintain and provide service.”
In that consolidation, Lima’s mail was sent to Toledo. Now it will have to go through Pontiac, Michigan, before reaching its destination.
New mail delivery standards for 2015
Day ranges for mail originating and terminating within the 48 contiguous United States beginning in January:
• First-class mail — 1 to 3 days
• Periodicals — 3 to 9 days
• Standard mail — 3 to 10 days
• Package services — 2 to 8 days