Post office defends moving mail processing out of Gainesville

Arthur Rosenberg, with the United States Postal Service, gives a presentation during a town hall meeting at Santa Fe College on Dec. 1, 2011, in Gainesville, Fla.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 9:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 9:26 p.m.

Over the protests of community members and postal service workers, officials with the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a proposal to consolidate mail processing services during a forum Thursday at Santa Fe College.

The postal service proposes moving Gainesville mail processing to both Tampa and Jacksonville, eliminating hundreds of positions locally.

"There's a plan," said Arthur Rosenberg, the postal service's senior plant manager for the North Florida district. "Anybody in business, when you get to the condition that the postal service is in, has to have a plan."

According to the postal service, mail volume has decreased more than 20 percent in the past four years, necessitating the change. USPS lost $5.1 billion in the 2011 fiscal year.

Nationally, first class mail volume will drop by half by 2020, from 78 billion pieces in 2010 to 39 billion then.

Rosenberg said it takes three pieces of standard mail, the flow of which has remained stable, to make up for the loss of one piece of first class mail.

"The decline is at a rate that even we didn't expect," he said.

Under the postal service's proposal, zip codes beginning with 326 — mail from Alachua and several surrounding counties — would be processed in Jacksonville, while those starting with 344 — mail from Marion and several counties to the south — would head to Tampa. The move would lead to nearly $5.8 million in savings, despite a $2.3 million increase in transportation costs, according to the postal service.

Across-town mail would no longer be processed and delivered overnight. Instead, it would take two to three days for local mail to be delivered.

More than 230 Gainesville postal workers, including 159 clerks and mail handlers, could be forced to retire or be relocated to either Tampa or Jacksonville.

"As far as right today, what's going to happen to the 234 people, I don't have an answer to that today," Rosenberg said.

Many union officials noted that the Jacksonville center was forced to lay off several employees, leaving no room for Gainesville employees to transfer there. Many attendees donned shirts bearing the slogan "Save America's Postal Service."

Scott Town, a postal worker and union member, said management should stop saying that there will be new service standards.

"You will have a change in your service: it will get worse," he said. "What they're really saying is ‘We're going to delay your mail.' "

According to Brian O'Neill, the president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 3525, the Gainesville center has a 98 percent overnight delivery rate for local mail — higher than Jacksonville.

O'Neill said the lack of trust in the postal service is embarrassing, but it stems from the focus on profit margins instead of delivering the mail.

"I reject the notion that the United States Postal Service is a business," he said. "It's a service to the American people, always has been."

Pam Carpenter, Alachua County supervisor of elections, said she was concerned about how the change would impact absentee ballots. By law, absentee ballots must be sent first class mail.

"As we go into the presidential election of 2012, I need to know how to help educate our voters so those 30, 40, 50,000 people who vote by mail will be prepared to deal with that change," she said.

Rosenberg stressed that the proposal isn't final. Official word wouldn't come until February.

"We're in a process called a study," he said. "A decision hasn't been made."

Mike Sullivan, national business agent for the American Postal Workers Union, told community members to be skeptical.

"Sad to say, I've been to a number of these meetings and studies," he said. "In reality, when they've had this town hall meeting, they've already made their decision."

The Postal Service will accept comments via mail through Dec. 16. They can be sent to the North Florida District consumer and industry contract manager, P.O. Box 40005, Jacksonville, FL 32203-0005.

John Wilson, a retired postal worker, said the change would amount to a significant decline in quality.

"Life is uncertain," he said. "We don't know what's going to happen, but we know we're going to get the mail."

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