Closure of Chattanooga mailing hub opposed

Closure of Chattanooga mailing hub opposed

December 1st, 2011 by Carey O'Neil in Business Around the Region

Rebecca Shaver works at the counter Tuesday in the Shallowford Road postal facility.

Photo by Tim Barber/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should Chattanooga's postal processing be shut down?

Laurie Conklin survived one U.S. Postal Service closing, but if the organization closes the local mail processing facility where she works, it could send her into bankruptcy.

She worked at a local mail facility for years until it closed in 2009. She was transferred across several jobs until finally settling down back in Chattanooga. If the General Mail Facility closes, it could be the last straw.

"If we've got to go bankrupt, we've got to go bankrupt," she said. "We've done everything we can."

The Postal Service is looking to close the Shallowford Road facility by March, killing 110 jobs but saving the organization up to $2 million annually.

The Chattanooga facility is one of 252 across the country being scrutinized for shutdown. The federally mandated but not federally funded organization is trying to eliminate 220,000 jobs from its nearly 560,000-strong workforce by 2015 in the face of dropping revenues and rising overhead.

"I understand they're trying to cut costs and everything," Conklin said. "But it affects a lot of people. It destroys lives."

The average person will see first-class mail delivery delayed from a one- to two-day fastest delivery.

That might be an inconvenience when waiting for a Netflix DVD in the mail, but some Chattanoogans see serious repercussions.

"A lot of medications are received through the mail and elderly people pay bills through the mail," Brainerd resident Norma Chapman told USPS officials Wednesday night. "Two or three days can be costly."

Nearly all of the 140 people who attended Wednesday's town hall-style meeting to discuss the potential closing were postal employees.

Postal Service spokesman David Walton said cuts are unfortunate but necessary if the agency is to avoid financial collapse.

"The bottom line is, we no longer need all of these facilities because we just don't have the mail volume to sustain all of them," Walton said. "Our mail volume has dropped off substantially, and it's not coming back."

That volume tanked as Americans shifted their correspondence from pen and paper to computer and keyboard. To counter that, the Postal Service could efficiently roll the Chattanooga's facility into the Postal Service's North Metro Georgia center in Duluth, Ga., a USPS study begun in mid-September suggests.

But Robert Pettway, manager of mail operations for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said the delayed delivery could hurt local business.

He worried the study didn't take population and business growth into account and may be making blind recommendations. He and several other business representatives spoke at the meeting about concerns that their time-sensitive businesses will suffer.

R.J. Hoffman, a state vice president for the American Postal Workers Union overseeing opposition to the closure, said the facility has performed well despite national declines in postal usage. With the city's new Amazon distribution center, he said, volume will increase by at least 20 percent and closing the center would be a mistake.

"There's cuts that can be made other places rather than shutting down plants," he said.

About 80 percent of USPS' budget goes to employees, most of whom are contractually protected from layoff. The median annual wage of mail sorters, processors and processing machine operators was $50,020 in 2008, according to U.S. data.

Still, guarantees against layoffs leave Postal Service officials fewer places to look when cuts are needed to get the business into the black.

"We haven't filled any jobs at the Postal Service probably in the last four years because we saw this happening," Walton said. "We no longer have the mail volume to sustain all these plants."

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