The U.S. Postal Service's proposal to close 252 mail processing plants, including one on Shallowford Road, likely will have ripple effects in Chattanooga beyond the 110 jobs that could be lost here.
With 90,000 to 100,000 pieces of mail sent daily, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is the city's biggest mailer. Slowing first-class delivery standards, as the postal service has also proposed, would mean the company's checks, bills and time-sensitive membership information would all be delayed with potentially costly consequences, said Robert Pettway, the insurer's manager of mail operations.
"That kind of information needs to get out quickly, so that's a real concern," he said.
Bill Hope, chief executive officer of local Kickoff Publishing, said it would be a big problem for his business, as well. His company sends mailers and, during football season, produces a weekly sports roundup newsletter.
If the local plant operations are rolled into a metro Georgia center, he said, "that stuff's got to go to Atlanta, come back here and go all the way around the world until anyone looks at it.
"There's just all sorts of problems it's going to cause, not only to us, but anyone who sends out any type of mail," he said.
No decisions have been finalized. Even if delivery standards are slowed, Chattanooga could keep its distribution center and mailers who pre-sort their mail could see a one-day turnaround, David Walton, spokesman for the Postal Service, said.
Or, he said, Chattanooga's processing center could stay open at reduced capacity, serving as a hub for the area.
"It's a long process," he said. "It's all up in the air."
The U.S. Postal Service proposed sweeping cuts to stave off its fall towards bankruptcy. The moves are expected to save $2.1 billion annually for the federally mandated but not federally funded organization, which has seen a 25 percent drop over the past five years in the amount of first-class mail it handles.
On Monday, the service asked the Postal Regulatory Commission whether it supports the shutdowns, which would slow first-class mail delivery standards from the current one to three days to two to three days. The commission will look at the proposal for the next three months, but USPS isn't bound by the decision.
"The way they're going about it and everything, it's like they already know it's approved," said local American Postal Workers Union President Judy Stocker. "It's just a sales pitch to the general public."
The Postal Service began studying which centers could be closed in mid-September, a costly process Stocker figures could have been avoided if the service wasn't sure delivery standards would change.
That assurance could spell doom for the 100-plus local jobs if the Chattanooga distribution center's operations are taken over by the Duluth, Ga., processing facility.
For the Postal Service, the choice may be between losing those Chattanooga jobs -- and as many as 35,000 nationally -- or declaring bankruptcy.
"There's not much of a choice there," Walton said. "We're struggling, and we're having to make changes."
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said he understands the Postal Service is going through a necessary transformative period, but he hopes the local center can stay.
"We've heard it's a vital facility. It's a good facility," he said. "Decisions will ultimately have to be made."
Staff writer Mike Pare contributed to this report.