In recent months, the United States Postal Service started implementing changes to first-class mail service in which mail delivered outside of a specific service area now arrives in two days rather than overnight, according to postal service officials. The new standards come as a harbinger to major cutbacks to postal operations set to soon go into effect.
By early next year, the postal service plans to consolidate 140 of the country’s mail-processing centers, including operations at 2300 Redondo Ave., which serves Long Beach and Signal Hill residents and businesses. The postal service estimates that moving the Long Beach processing and distribution services to a facility in Los Angeles will save more than $16 million annually, while resulting in the reduction of about 680 postal service positions.
Earlier this year, the postal service had put the decision to consolidate operations on hold in hopes of Congress enacting legislation to give the organization a more “flexible business model” during current times of: declining first-class mail volumes due to more people making transactions online; rising retiree benefit costs; and shrinking revenue. But no such legislation has passed, and, on May 17, the postal service announced that it was going forward with the consolidations.
In July, the postal service completed the transfer of mail-processing operations from Pasadena to the Los Angeles facility, located at 7001 S. Central Ave., according to Richard Maher, spokesperson for USPS in Los Angeles and Orange counties. He said no other consolidations in the greater Los Angeles area are to occur until Jan. 1, 2013 to avoid disrupting delivery during the November elections and the holiday mailing season.
Mail-processing operations in Long Beach are to be merged with Los Angeles by February, Maher said. However, he added that the Redondo Avenue facility is for now keeping its post office open, continuing to offer P.O. box services, bulk business mail drop-off and retail services, such as postage sales and money orders.
Maher said the goal is to maintain existing service levels during consolidations, adding that the transfer of mail processing should be a seamless transition for most regular mail customers. “The consolidation from Pasadena to Los Angeles has gone very smoothly,” he said. “As we implement these changes, we make every effort to maintain service … and these facilities are not that far apart. Transportation could easily get mail within the prescribed period.”
The postal service has not made a determination yet as to the long-term future of the property on Redondo Avenue, Maher said, adding that plans may involve either relocating the facility, subdividing the property or moving in other operations. “We have not made a determination of what we will do with that property,” he said. “But, if we decide to relocate public services to a nearby smaller facility, we would involve the public with public meetings and notifications.”
Some former, now retired postal employees, however, foresee a perfect storm on the horizon, adding that merging so many mail-processing centers to one facility will inevitably cause longer delays in mail delivery.
“If you’re waiting until the last possible moment to mail your payment back to a company, it’s going to be delayed … more than two days,” said Martine Etchepare, a retired, 21-year postal employee who worked as labor relations manager for the Long Beach district up until 2003. “Mail is going to take a week or longer to get where it’s going and it’s going to be a real ugly situation … People are going to be receiving late payment fees, penalties and companies are going to be badly impacted.”
Regarding the postal service’s notions of a smooth transition, he said news reports have already shown that the transfer of Pasadena’s mail processing to Los Angeles has caused delays in the mail system. Moving processing from the Long Beach facility, which handles even more mail volume than Pasadena, will only compound the problem, Etchepare said.
In a letter sent to the postal service last year, he cited a previous closure in which a processing plant in Marina del Ray was merged in January 2005 with Los Angeles and Long Beach facilities. The closure, Etchepare said, resulted in “widespread delivery disruptions,” complaints and lengthy delays, adding that the postal service has not properly analyzed the impacts of consolidating operations on a local basis.
“The impacts that we suffered from the Marina del Ray closure are going to be magnified tremendously, just because of the fact that the country is losing so much of its postal plant facilities,” he said. “I personally believe this is not downsizing as much as it is dismantling the postal service.”
Still, Maher said, without Congress enacting any legislation, the organization has no other option but to take such cost-cutting measures. He said current laws force the postal service to make “prepayments” of up to $5.5 billion each year to fund retiree benefits, adding that the postal service has already defaulted on its payment to the federal government for the first time in history. Maher said hopes are that legislation would change that law to allow the postal service to carry out a more feasible business model.
As the postal service has now implemented a new service standard of maintaining only 80 percent of first-class overnight mail delivery– where deliveries to locations out of prescribed service areas now take two days– customers should adjust to the changes accordingly and send in payments earlier, he added.
In addition, if the Redondo Avenue post office has to be relocated, the postal service would make sure the new location would be “as close as possible” to the existing facility, since many Signal Hill residents rely on the station for public retail and P.O. box delivery, Maher said. The Long Beach facility was named after Congressman Steve Horn, who fought for decades to get the City of Signal Hill its own ZIP code, 90755, which the city received in early 2002. Etchepare said that the case might be that P.O. box services for Signal Hill residents are spread out among different post office locations throughout Long Beach.
Meanwhile, the Long Beach City Council continues to oppose the closure of the Redondo Avenue facility, while staying in communication with Senator Dianne Feinstein on the matter. Tom Modica, director of government affairs and strategic initiatives for Long Beach, said city officials are continuing to monitor the situation and will voice concerns of local impacts.
“This is not an issue unique to Long Beach,” Modica said. “There are facilities throughout the nation that are dealing with this issue, as the post office restructures to save money … Our position has been to voice our concern about the local impact in making sure there’s appropriate mail service delivery to our residents.”
This is part 1 of a two-part series.