published Thursday, February 7th, 2013

U.S. Postal Service to end Saturday mail delivery

Peggy Robertson prepares a package for shipment Wednesday while other customers wait in line at the post office on North Market St. in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Peggy Robertson prepares a package for shipment Wednesday while other customers wait in line at the post office on North Market St. in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Photo by Doug Strickland.
  • photo
    Postal Service employee Shu Wang tapes a customer's package Wednesday at the post office on North Market St.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
    enlarge photo

Poll
Will you miss Saturday mail service?

KEY DATES

1775: Benjamin Franklin appointed first postmaster general by the Continental Congress

1847: U.S. postage stamps issued

1860: Pony Express began

1863: City mail delivery began

1893: First commemorative stamps issued

1896: Rural mail delivery began

1918: Scheduled airmail service began

1950: Residential deliveries reduced to one a day

1963: ZIP Code system inaugurated

1971: United States Postal Service began operations

1983: ZIP+4 Codes begun

1992: Self-adhesive stamps introduced nationwide

1994: Postal Service launched public Internet site

2006: Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act signed

2013: Saturday mail delivery ends

Source: U.S. Postal Service

MAKING THE SWITCH

• Saturday mail delivery will stop

• Saturday package delivery will continue

• Saturday delivery to P.O. boxes will continue

• Post offices already open on Saturday will remain open

Source: U.S. Postal Service

After 150 years of six-day-a-week mail delivery, the U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday it will stop delivering mail on Saturdays — a move that many locals think is a good idea.

"With all the problems the Postal Service is having, they should have done this a long time ago," Chattanooga resident Larry Jones said. "Everything shuts down on Friday, and all I get is junk mail on Saturday anyway."

The Postal Service will switch to five-day-a-week delivery in August, Postmaster General and CEO Patrick Donahoe said Wednesday. The company will continue to deliver packages on Saturday, but won't deliver mail to street addresses.

The move is expected to save $2 billion a year, Donahoe said in a news release, and is aimed at pushing the company back to financial stability -- the Postal Service lost $15.9 billion in the 2012 fiscal year.

"The bottom line is that the Postal Service is circling the drain," said Terry Thompson, owner of Action Mail Presort in Chattanooga. "The elimination of Saturday delivery is one of the best moves they've made in a while. If we're going to keep the Postal Service around for any length of time, we have to cut expenses."

The Postal Service targeted Saturday for the cut because it's the slowest mail delivery day, spokesman David Walton said. Businesses and advertisers that usually deliver mailings or bills on Saturday will have six months to adjust, he added.

"Where a target in-home date might have been Friday/Saturday before, the schedule might need to be moved up to Thursday/Friday delivery," he said. "Advertising mail customers have both the technical and logistical means to make these adjustments."

Chattanooga resident William Powell said he's not surprised by the announcement.

"There are Saturdays I haven't gotten any mail," he said. "But will it solve anything? I don't know. They've made previous moves like closing offices and raising postage, but they're still struggling."

TROUBLED TIMES

Since 2006, the Postal Service has reduced its annual costs by $15 billion and cut 28 percent of its workforce by closing or consolidating 200 mail processing locations, the agency reports.

But the service still is in the red, in large part because of a 2006 law that requires that it set aside $5.5 billion a year to pay for future retiree benefits. The Postal Service defaulted on those payments in 2012, which accounted for $11.1 billion of the total $15.9 billion lost.

Steve Lassan, regional administrative assistant for the National Association of Letter Carriers, said he opposes the Saturday cut because it doesn't solve the overarching issue.

"So we save $2 billion," he said. "It still doesn't fix the other $3 billion we need to pay. It doesn't fix the problem."

He added that having no mail delivery on Saturday will be especially hard in rural areas.

"As far as the small businesses that we went out and talked to -- mail is how a lot of them still communicate," he said. "Especially in the rural areas, where you don't have Internet and email -- I know there are a lot of areas, especially in Tennessee, that are still affected like that. This is about more than just government jobs here. There are a lot of jobs tied to this."

In Chattanooga, the Shallowford Road Processing and Distribution Center has already made a list of mailing centers that may be closed in 2014, said R.J. Hoffman, Tennessee vice president for the American Postal Workers Union. But the move to five-day mail delivery will affect the center before then.

"The impact it will have locally is that we've got a third shift over here at the plant that processes letters on Friday night," he said. "If they're not delivering on Saturday, they won't need those positions. There will be a total upheaval of the jobs here and perhaps some reduced staffing."

Once the switch is in place, the likelihood that the Shallowford center will close permanently goes up, Hoffman said.

"In order to make the five-day delivery work, the Postal Service is going to have to change the service standards," he said. "There's no way around it. And if they do change the service standards, it will be the end of the Chattanooga facility."

Changing standards would allow Chattanooga's mail to be processed in Atlanta or Nashville instead of at the Shallowford center, he said.

IN OPPOSITION

Both the American Postal Workers Union and the National Association of Letter Carriers oppose the five-day schedule. The letters carriers group called it "disastrous," "reckless" and a "slash-and-shrink" approach that flouts the will of Congress.

In the past, Congress has banned the Postal Service from switching to a five-day delivery system. But because the federal government is operating under a temporary spending measure -- a compromise that was part of the fiscal cliff deal -- Postal Service leaders think they have the authority to make the change without congressional approval.

The temporary spending measure ends March 27, and Congress could re-impose the ban then -- but the Postal Service said it will urge legislators to let the five-day delivery switch stand.

"Basically Donahoe is doing an end-around," Hoffman said. "He's going out on a limb."

The Postal Service reports that initial public reaction to the change has been positive -- one survey showed that 7 in 10 Americans would rather cut mail delivery to five days a week than pay more for postage.

Thompson, who has worked in the mailing industry for 27 years, said a reduced delivery schedule is better than other expense-cutting options.

"I'd much rather see this than the closing of local post offices," she said.

Chattanoogan Tracy Long said it would have been a harder transition 20 years ago.

"We do more on the Internet now," he said. "I don't think it will be a big problem."

about Shelly Bradbury...

Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...

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