The U.S. Postal Service has announced plans to close the Long Beach mail-processing center and other facilities nationwide as part of their cost-cutting measures unless Congress chooses to enact legislation that will address the agency’s financial problems.
The Long Beach facility located at 2300 Redondo Ave. is one of three processing centers in Los Angeles County that are targeted for possible closure. Richard Maher, a spokesperson for the U.S. Postal Service, explained that the agency will review each of the three centers individually and announce the dates of closure when the Postal Service feels they can accomplish the consolidation. If the proposal moves forward and all three processing centers close, only two facilities– one in Los Angeles and the other in Santa Clarita– will handle the processing for the entire county, according to Maher.
There is a window, however, for Congress to enact legislation to address the Postal Service’s business woes.
“Nothing is set in stone at this time,” Maher said in an interview Monday. He explained that the U.S. Postal Service agreed in December that they would not close post offices or mail-processing facilities until May 15 and that agreement gives Congress an opportunity to propose comprehensive legislation to address what the agency calls a financial crisis.
He noted the drop in the demand for first-class mail. The public has increasingly turned to the Internet to handle much of its communication, relying on email and choosing to pay bills and file taxes online, and the Postal Service’s annual volume for first-class mail has dropped about 25 percent since 2006, according to Maher. He emphasized that the agency’s operations are not funded by tax dollars.
In addition to the drop in mail volume, Maher also stressed one major financial obligation that affects the Postal Service’s bottom line.
“The Postal Service has asked Congress to provide a more flexible business model for us and to address some of the mandates that were established in past laws,” Maher said. “Most [notable] is the requirement to pre-pay future retiree health benefits to the tune of $5.5 billion every year, which has been driving our losses in the past couple of years. And this is an obligation that no government agency or business in the United States is burdened with.”
The possible closure of Long Beach’s mail-processing facility doesn’t mean the end of service to retail customers at the facility at Redondo Avenue. According to Maher, the movement of the processing center wouldn’t impact any of the other services at this time. Maher confirmed that, for now, the Redondo Avenue facility will still offer retail service, access to post office box services, and business mail entry service. Carrier delivery units will still report there to prepare mail for delivery.
The threat of the plant’s closure, however, affects the future of hundreds of local employees. According to Maher, about 686 employees at the Redondo Avenue facilities are working at that processing unit.
“The Postal Service will make every effort to reassign employees to other positions,” Maher said. He also acknowledged that the agency is also discussing retirement incentives with the unions since about 54 percent of the employees are eligible to retire.
A spokesperson for the local chapter of the National Postal Mailhandlers Union (NPMHU) said he and others believed that the Postal Service is just waiting for the May 15 moratorium deadline to pass before they move forward with the plans to close the facility.
“It’s not a wise decision. If the Postal Service was trying to do the best thing for the American public, they would not be closing the plant,” said Eddie Cowan in an interview last Friday. Cowan serves as the president of the local chapter of the union that solely represents the mailhandlers.
He estimated that about 130 of the mailhandlers he represents have tenures of around 20 to 25 years, and some may have up to 30 years with the Postal Service.
He added that it’s not the first time that some of the workers have faced closure. Some of the employees had been transferred from the Inglewood Marina facility that closed about seven years ago.
The Redondo Avenue mail facility is within the Long Beach city limits, but the loss of so many employees troubles Signal Hill Mayor Larry Forester. The City wrote a letter to Laura Richardson, who represents the 37th U.S. Congressional District on the matter. Forester also expressed concern for the future of the main postal office for Signal Hill.
“From the standpoint of the city, it’s very critical that we have a local post office for our citizens to go to,” Forester said in a telephone interview Tuesday. He added that, if in the future the Postal Service chooses to close the post office entirely, he would like for the City to help find a new location for the post office in Signal Hill.
Signal Hill doesn’t have its own post office, but it has a special tie to the facility on Redondo Avenue. Forester said the city does have its own ZIP code, thanks “100 percent” to the efforts of former Rep. Steve Horn. That post office is named after the former congressman who passed away last year.
According to Congressional record, the new ZIP code was sanctioned by the Postal Service in January 2002 and took effect that June.
Richardson released a statement Wednesday indicating that the congresswoman supports proposed legislation that seeks to prevent closure of post offices in high-poverty and high-unemployment areas and addresses other postal service issues, including the retiree health benefits issue raised by the Postal Service.
Since the final disposition of the facility is yet to be determined, it’s too soon to talk about the real estate, according to Maher. The question of whether to sell all or part of the Redondo Avenue facilities would require further analysis, Maher said. He confirmed that the Postal Service plans to continue to use the facility for its retail services for now.
In addition to the proposal to close processing centers throughout the country, Maher confirmed that there is also a separate proposal that would change how quickly a first-class letter can be delivered.
“The movement of mail-processing units operations in and of itself will not slow down the mail,” Maher said, “but the Postal Service has proposed to change first-class mail delivery standards nationwide. Now, if that is approved and implemented, the time it takes to deliver mail would change regardless whether the mail is processed in Long Beach or Los Angeles. And it would change whether we close that plant or whether it would open.”
He said that the proposed change eliminates the overnight delivery of local mail nationwide and that all first-class mail would be delivered in two or three days.
“So what that would mean is, if you’re in Signal Hill and you mail a [first-class] letter to Long Beach, it would not be delivered overnight,” Maher said. “But if you’re in Signal Hill and you mail a letter to New York, it would be delivered in the same amount of time as it is today, three days.”
Whether or not Long Beach keeps its processing unit, there still might be change to how mail gets delivered, according to Maher.
“Even if the decision was made to keep Long Beach open, but they did change the service standards, there would still be no local overnight delivery of first-class letters,” Maher said. He emphasized that the closure of the mail-processing facilities is a separate issue from the proposed service standards for delivery.
“That said,” Maher added, “the closure of about 250 facilities nationwide could not be done unless we change service standards.”
The agency is waiting for advisement from the Postal Regulatory Commission on this particular proposal, he said, adding that those proposed changes would not affect other services like Priority Mail and Express Mail if customers need overnight delivery.
The Postal Service spokesperson acknowledged that the Postal Service of the future must change.
“But we believe that, with the proper changes through comprehensive legislation, that the Postal Service can remain a strong cornerstone of the American economy and continue to provide service to every community in the U.S.” Maher said. “But we do have to change. We have to be smaller and leaner and more efficient and more competitive as we move into this century.”