In Chattanooga, 223 jobs are on the chopping block as the U.S. Postal Service considers consolidating 252 processing and distribution centers nationally. Shutting down these centers will slow first-class mail from one- to three-day delivery to two- to three-day delivery.
BY THE NUMBERS
• Jobs at risk: 30,000 full time, 5,000 part time
• Jobs to be cut by 2015: 220,000
• Total USPS employment: 559,026
Source: David Walton, spokesman for the USPS
The U.S. Postal Service is studying a plan that could cut up to 223 jobs by shutting down Chattanooga's mail processing and distribution center.
The four-month study will determine whether the local center's work can be taken over by the Postal Service's North Metro Georgia center in Duluth, Ga.
The amount of first-class mail dropped 25 percent nationwide in the past five years as people shifted their bill payments and communication online, Postal Service figures show, while total mail dropped by more than 43 billion pieces in that same period.
"Right now, we're losing money hand over fist," said David Walton, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, which projects it will lose about $9 billion this year. "If we sit back and do nothing, we will go bankrupt."
Over the next four months, the Postal Service will study 252 centers across the country to see if the drop in the amount of mail has made their machines and workers idle enough to move operations to another facility. If the federally mandated but not federally funded service shuts down all those facilities, it would put about 30,000 full-time and 5,000 part-time employees out of work across the country.
The Postal Service hopes to cut 220,000 of its 559,026 workers by 2015. In July, the organization announced a similar study that could shut down up to 3,700 post offices, 61 of which are in Tennessee.
There are about 50,000 workers at the targeted facilities, postal officials said.
With these cuts, first-class mail will be delivered in two to three days rather than one to three. The Postal Service also would like to drop to a five-day delivery week from a six-day.
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"The post office does have to be reformed," said Jordan Powell, press secretary for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. "But the distribution center seems to be working in Chattanooga, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to move it somewhere else."
Employee and payroll expenses are about 80 percent of the costs for the Postal Service. The median annual wage of a mail carrier was $49,800 in 2008, the most recent number available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mail sorters, processors and processing machine operators earned about $50,020 annually, bureau figures show.
Employee costs increased in 2006 when a federal law required the Postal Service to pre-fund future retirees' health care, a mandate unique to the service that costs $5.5 billion annually.
Walton said there's simply too much excess in the system and cuts are absolutely necessary. But he said Chattanooga employees shouldn't panic.
"This is just a study at this point," he said. "It's nothing that's been decided yet."