By NICK DIAMANTIDES
On Wednesday evening in Signal Hill, a long line of speakers told the United States Postal Service (USPS) in no uncertain terms that they want the Redondo Avenue Post Office and mail processing facility to remain just as it is. The occasion was a town hall meeting at Alvarado Elementary School conducted by the USPS’ Santa Ana District.
The purpose of the meeting was to inform the public and USPS employees about the progress made in a feasibility study now being conducted to determine whether some of the mail processing operations of the Redondo Avenue facility should be moved to a similar facility in Santa Ana. About 70 people attended the meeting in the multi-purpose room of Alvarado School. Many of them were employees of the Redondo Avenue Post Office.
Early in the meeting, the audience viewed an approximately 10-minute video displaying some of the modern, high-speed mail-processing machinery while narrators discussed successful consolidations of mail-processing operations from one or more postal facilities to other facilities.
A video narrator noted that, with its new technology, the USPS can now process the same amount of mail with fewer people. “For the Postal Service, Area Mail Processing consolidation is all part of our strategic transformation that was presented to Congress and promised to the American people,” she added. “To be efficient, we have to change with the times.”
After the video, Gerry Ahern, manager of the USPS’ Santa Ana District, addressed the audience. Reading from a prompter, he explained that the purpose of Area Mail Processing (AMP) consolidation is to improve operational efficiency and/or service to the public. “We have been consolidating mail operations for decades,” he noted. “In the 20 years from 1950 to 1970, U.S. mail volume nearly doubled. Volume rose from 45 billion pieces in 1950 to 87 billion in 1970 and showed no signs of slowing.”
Ahern added that during that same period the number of USPS employees also rose sharply, and the organization began transitioning from manual mail sorting to the use of sophisticated machinery. He explained that the transition required moving mail processing from small post offices to larger centralized facilities, which helped improve service to the public while keeping costs down.
Ahern noted that last January, Postmaster General John Potter spoke before a Senate subcommittee on the financial crisis facing the Postal Service. According to Ahern, Potter also told the senators what the USPS is doing to weather the storm, and that effort includes ongoing mail-processing consolidations.
In his presentation to the senators, Potter explained that the 202 billion pieces of mail handled by the USPS in 2008 were 9 billion pieces lower than in 2007 and that decrease was partially to blame for the Postal Service’s $2.8 billion deficit last year. Potter also asked that the federal government allow the Postal Service to deliver mail only five days a week to prevent a projected loss of $6 billion this year, despite the recent two- cent increase in the first-class mail rate.
Ahern explained that a revolution in the way people communicate has drastically changed the way Americans use mail. He noted that the rise in electronic communication (including e-mail, cell phones and text messaging) has greatly reduced the amount of letters Americans are sending to each other. “For the last decade, we have experienced the steady erosion of single-piece, stamped, first-class mail such as bill payments, greeting cards and letters,” he said. “Personal and business correspondence continues to shift from U.S. mail to private services.”
Ahern explained that, in order for the USPS to remain economically viable and continue to provide the services its customers want, while dealing with the reductions in mail volume and revenues, it must streamline its mail-processing operations throughout the United States. He noted that the decrease in mail volume has resulted in postal facilities that have excess mail-processing capacities, and the Redondo Avenue post office is one of those. “That means we are paying for resources that we’re not using,” he said. “We must make some significant adjustments to reduce our costs.”
With all that as a backdrop, Ahern told the audience that AMP consolidation makes better use of USPS employees, equipment, facilities and transportation. He stressed that consolidation reduces overall costs by eliminating redundancies in mail-processing operations.
Ahern told the audience that, while the feasibility study is not yet completed, preliminary findings show that transferring outgoing mail processing from Long Beach to Santa Ana would save the USPS about $2.7 million per year. He added that about 48 jobs would be eliminated from the Redondo Avenue facility, which currently has about 880 employees. Those employees would not be laid off. Instead, according to Ahern, they would be reassigned to other postal facilities in accordance with collective bargaining agreements.
Ahern also assured the audience that services now available at the Redondo Avenue facility would continue to be available after the outgoing mail processing was transferred to Santa Ana. He explained that collection box pick-up times would not change, retail services would remain the same, business mail acceptance would remain the same, a local postmark would still be available for stamped first class mail, delivery of mail to residences and businesses would not change, and mail delivery would not be delayed as a result of the consolidation. In addition, according to Ahern, mailers who presort mail would continue to receive applicable postage discounts and mailers who drop ship mailings would continue to deposit them at the Redondo Avenue facility.
However, in spite of Ahern’s explanations and assurances, many people in the audience were not convinced that transferring outgoing mail processing to Santa Ana was a good idea. One of those was Signal Hill Mayor Ellen Ward, who spoke on behalf of the entire city council. “We are against the move totally,” she said, explaining that city officials and many residents were afraid that the consolidation was the first step in the eventual closure of the facility.
Signal Hill Deputy City Manager Charlie Honeycutt spoke next. He echoed Ward’s comments and added that city officials worked hard for many years to persuade the USPS to give the city its own ZIP code. (Until a few years ago, different sections of Signal Hill shared ZIP codes with adjacent portions of Long Beach.) “We want to be sure that our ZIP code, 90755, does remain intact regardless of changes at the Long Beach facility,” he said.
Ahern replied that the USPS had no intention of eliminating Signal Hill’s ZIP code.
The next hour was mostly taken up by questions and comments from employees of the Redondo Avenue facility and their union representatives. They expressed frustration over the fact that they first heard of the feasibility study from news reports. They also insisted that transferring the outgoing mail processing to Santa Ana would result in more overtime and increased transportation costs, which would negate the projected savings.
Some of the employees also said they felt betrayed by the USPS because they had devoted many years of their careers to the Redondo Avenue facility and had won awards for the efficiency and speed with which they handled mail. “And this is the thanks and the gratitude that we get,” said postal employee and union representative Anita Shepherd. She added that a mail-processing facility in Los Angeles currently has volumes of mail that it cannot handle efficiently. She said rather than transferring Long Beach mail processing to Santa Ana, it would be more efficient to transfer some of the mail from the Los Angeles facility to Long Beach.
Fifth District Long Beach City Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske also spoke during the last hour of the meeting. She noted that the Long Beach City Council has also expressed its opposition to the consolidation. “Having been in government, I know when you say you’re going to consolidate and cut 48 jobs and you’re going to be transparent to the customers, that’s not what happens,” she said. “I am very concerned that this is the beginning of a further downsizing of the facility.”
Toward the end of the meeting, Signal Tribune publisher Neena Strichart asked if there would be any more town hall meetings concerning the consolidation, when the final determination would be made, and how the public would be notified about the decision.
Richard Maher, public affairs and communications officer for the Santa Ana district of the USPS, replied that there would be no more meetings. He added that the final determination on the possible consolidation could take as long as 18 months, after which notices would be sent to government officials and business customers, and press releases would be sent to news media. He noted, however, that since retail services and mail delivery would remain the same even after the consolidation, notices would not be sent to individual residents in the area.
At the close of the meeting, Ahern thanked everyone for coming. “I know how hard this is for everybody,” he said, stressing that a decision had not been made yet. “When we have the information, we will share it with you,” he said.
The USPS is still receiving written comments on the possible consolidation.
Comments, postmarked no later than June 11, 2009, may be sent to:
Manager Consumer Affairs
3101 W. Sunflower Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92799-9325