TUPELO – As opposition here mounts to the potential closing of Tupelo’s mail-processing operations, other communities across the nation are waging similar battles.
The United States Postal Service has targeted more than five dozen processing centers, including three in Mississippi, for consolidation in the past year. The moves are seen as cost-cutting measures for an industry on the decline.
In Tupelo, the consolidation would result in the loss of six jobs and create a savings of $181,000 a year.
In the past decade, the volume of single-piece, first-class mail has declined by 19 billion pieces, or 29 percent, according to the USPS. The less mail is sent, the fewer centers are needed to process it.
But few communities, including Tupelo, have taken the news quietly.
From Lima, Ohio, to Panama City, Fla., and elsewhere across the country, postal union members have been joined by residents and public officials in an effort to stop the closures.
They say the moves won’t save the USPS money and ultimately will hurt the independent federal agency by slowing mail service and driving away customers.
Some also accuse the service of conducting their consolidation studies in secret and providing incomplete data to the public when asked to defend its decisions.
At a packed public hearing last week in Lima, according to the Times Bulletin newspaper, Mayor Dave Berger told a USPS representative that his constituents “are not foolish, ignorant people. We can read reports, we can understand data, and there is no data. You haven’t proven your case.”
Lima stands to lose 57 jobs in the proposed consolidation.
The USPS has held public hearings nationwide as part of its consolidation studies. Tupelo’s hearing is set for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Link Centre, and residents will have a chance to learn more about the potential consolidation and to comment on it.
Partial results of Tupelo’s study already are available online. It recommends moving mail operations from Tupelo to Memphis for an annual savings of $181,000 and the elimination of six jobs. Those workers would be offered a transfer to another location.
Mail processing includes sorting, categorizing, stamping and routing letters and packages. Tupelo’s operation, located at the Thomas Street branch, handles all mail from ZIP codes starting with 388.
Customers not affected
But, the study says, neither customer service nor delivery times will be affected by the consolidation.
Wrong, say postal union workers. They claim Tupelo’s performance record and efficiency ratings are consistently higher than those in Memphis and that delivery won’t keep pace. And they’ve had support from numerous public officials.
Both the Tupelo City Council and Lee County Board of Supervisors signed resolutions opposing any proposed consolidation. And U.S. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., jointly signed a letter along with U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Miss., saying that doing the study “during this period of economic downtown could have a negative long-term impact for the local Mississippi economy.”
It’s unclear how many people will attend this week’s public hearing or what impact their presence or comments will have on the final decision. Some postal union representative claim heavy public opposition successfully stopped closings elsewhere.
Of the 67 processing centers the USPS has studied for consolidation in the past year, six managed to stay open. One of them was in Hattiesburg.
“They were considering taking the mail operations in Hattiesburg to Gulfport, and lot of public pressure was mounted and they did a good job of speaking out,” said Jerry McIlvain of the American Postal Workers Union in Memphis.
That consolidation would have cut four jobs and saved the USPS an estimated $440,000 annually.
McIlvain credited the fierce public opposition with halting the plan and said similar efforts have been thwarted nationwide thanks to public pressure.
But 21 other cities have seen their mail-processing centers either closed to slated for closing.
Even then, communities continue to fight. Last week in New Jersey, the APWU with the support of U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews and state Sen. Stephen Sweeney filed a motion in a U.S. District Court to block a USPS consolidation that would eliminate 500 jobs.
According to the Gloucester County Times, opponents claim the USPS didn’t meet guaranteed provisions within the workers’ collective bargaining agreement. They also said the agency didn’t provide a satisfactory explanation for wanting to close the facility.
Meanwhile, dozens more cities await word from the USPS on the fate of their mail-processing centers, including those in Grenada and Jackson, Tenn.
Grenada’s plan calls for mail processing to move to Jackson, for an estimated annual savings of $223,000 and a loss of nine jobs. Jackson, Tenn.’s mail processing would go to Memphis for an annual savings of $877,900 and a loss of nine jobs.
Grenada’s public hearing is set for Tuesday; Jackson’s is set for Jan. 28.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal