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Postal consolidation to begin soon

Published: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 8:43 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 8:43 a.m.

As part of the cash-strapped agency's nationwide plan to cut costs, the U.S. Postal Service announced last week that it will transfer mail processing from the North McDowell and Southpoint Boulevard sites down to Oakland over a nine-month period beginning now and ending next February.

The Southpoint Boulevard office will close permanently, while the North McDowell site will remain open for retail services.

Because the postal service has a “no lay-off” contract with its employees, Petaluma postal workers could face relocation to the Oakland office or incentives to retire early. Petaluma residents and businesses, meanwhile, could eventually see longer delivery times for their first class mail after the nine-month consolidation is finished.

According to U.S. Postal Service spokesman James Wigdel, moving North Bay mail processing to Oakland in phases will preserve overnight delivery for approximately 80 percent of all first class mail locally, and give the postal service time to relocate its workers and develop proper retirement packages for those employees who are currently eligible.

When the post office initially decided to move all North Bay processing to Oakland, it estimated an additional day or two being added to first-class mail delivery. Wigdel said that moving mail processing slowly will delay the longer delivery times for the next nine months, but didn't know what would happen once the relocation is complete.

But Petaluma postal worker Clay Cook says that while he is hopeful that service will not be affected and jobs will not be cut, he isn't convinced.

“Ultimately, it will undermine our ability to turn local mail around as quickly as we should,” he said. “Anytime you reduce service you reduce the reliability of the company and when the postal service is struggling, that just isn't the way to go.”

The North McDowell and Southpoint Boulevard sites employ almost 400 workers — mostly mail processors — who will be forced to relocate or take retirement incentives after processing stops in Petaluma.

David Ospital, president of the American Postal Workers Union in Petaluma, said that while there are a lot of employees who are eligible to retire across the country, most of them cannot afford to do so at this time. “A lot of people are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to early retirement. We'll just have to wait and see what kind of incentives are offered.”

When the post office sought to shrink its workforce in the past, it offered early retirement incentives. Ospital said he hopes that this work force reduction will be similar, but said that he hasn't heard anything yet to confirm that.

Ospital added that while relocation is presented as an option, the Oakland facility does not need more staff. He worries that Petaluma workers could be relocated farther away then Oakland or be forced to take lesser-paid positions.

“They don't need our people down there,” he said. “They just need the mail.”

The North Bay consolidation is part of a nationwide postal service effort to cut $1.2 billion in spending through consolidating operations and reducing staff. Wigdel said that currently there are 461 mail processing centers nationwide, but that they plan to reduce that down to about 230 over the next two years.

(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at janelle.wetzstein@arguscourier.com)

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