By Karl Henkel
On a day when the U.S. Postal Service announced plans to delay mail delivery, Youngstown was hit with more somber news.
A local postal union leader told The Vindicator on Monday the city’s distribution and processing postal center — home to about 500 employees — could close as early as March.
It is one of about 250 such processing centers across the country expected to close.
“All they are going to have left in Ohio is Columbus and Cleveland,” said Dominic Corso, president of the American Postal Workers’ Union Local 443, which represents postal clerks.
“They are going to totally change their delivery standards.”
David Van Allen, a post office spokesman, rebuked that claim, saying that the facility remains under consideration for consolidation.
He said a public forum regarding the closing is tentatively scheduled for Dec. 28, but that there is no time line for a closure.
The national closing plan technically must await an advisory opinion from the independent Postal Regulatory Commission, slated for next March. But that opinion is nonbinding, and only substantial pressure from Congress, businesses or the public might deter or lessen the far-reaching cuts.
A letter from USPS to Youngstown union representatives obtained by The Vindicator shows that USPS is preparing to move some Youngstown workers to other regional facilities such as Pittsburgh.
“They’ve already put the cart before the horse,” said Corso, who said the post office closures nationwide will continue until Congress makes a change to previous post-office legislation.
The letter outlines potential involuntary reassignments for 87 Youngstown workers and included a map showing a region within a 100-mile radius of Youngstown where USPS could transfer those workers.
The Youngstown facility is home to about 500 workers who contribute $500,000 in city income taxes.
The office of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Avon, was disappointed to hear the news.
“Sen. Brown is concerned that the closing of the Youngstown mail processing center, along with nine other centers across Ohio, will lead to a degradation of mail service, significant job losses, and an undue burden on Ohio residents and businesses that rely on timely mail delivery,” said Allison Preiss, Brown’s press secretary.
Meanwhile, USPS announced Monday plans to push back mail delivery.
First-class mail is normally delivered in one to three days; the proposal will push that back to two to three days.
The move is expected to save USPS $2.1 billion because of a “significant consolidation of the postal network in terms of facilities, processing equipment, vehicles and employee work force,” the postal service said.
Corso said the announcement is a precursor to facility closings, which could cause Youngstown mail to travel to Pittsburgh and therefore could not be delivered in the standard one to three days.
There are a couple of reasons for the USPS cost-saving proposals.
The postal service still delivers more than 168 billion pieces of mail annually, a 20 percent decline from 2006, when USPS delivered a record 213 billion pieces, but The Boston Consulting Group Inc. expects mail volume to decrease to 150 billion pieces by 2020.
Declining mail volume is one reason the postal service has racked up multi-billion dollar deficits the past two years.
The most substantial reason, however, is the government-mandated retiree health-care benefit prefunding program.
Every year, the postal service starts with a deficit of $5.5 billion, as stipulated in the 2006 Postal Accountability Enhancement Act, which requires USPS to fund retiree health-care benefits 75 years in advance.
That is in addition to $7 billion in expenditures for current benefits.
This year’s $5.5 billion payment, originally due this fall, faces a Dec. 18 deadline.
The USPS has borrowed $12 billion from the U.S. Treasury and earlier this year it bargained with the postal workers’ union for 3.5 percent pay increases during the next 41/2 years.
The postal service receives no taxpayer money for operating expenses. Instead, it relies on the sale of stamps, which cost 44 cents (and will cost 45 cents beginning Jan. 22).
Congress has discussed two bills aimed at improving the viability of the postal service.
A bipartisan Senate bill introduced last month calls for the return of $7 billion of prefunded retiree-health benefits to USPS to pay for debts. It also calls for two years of studies on ending Saturday mail delivery.
A Republican-led House bill targets ending Saturday delivery and closing post offices. It also seeks to implement a post office financial control board.
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, who is one of 200 supporters of a House bill to keep the postal service solvent, said he disagreed with USPS’ announcement Monday.
“Postal cuts to services, facilities, or jobs are the wrong approach to fix the USPS,” he said in a statement.
“I co-sponsored legislation to fix the pension system so the Postal Service would not have to make these cuts, and I wish the rest of Congress would join me so we could save these jobs and maintain the quality of service people depend upon from their local post offices.”
Youngstown’s postal headquarters, 99 S. Walnut St., first opened in 1977.
The $8 million facility was designed by P. Arthur D’Orazio of Youngstown and George S. Rider of Cleveland.
It was built by Youngstown-based B&B Construction Co. of Ohio.