HAMDPEN, Maine — For the employees at the U.S. Postal Service’s Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Facility, things have slowed a little in recent weeks.
“We’ve got guys standing around not doing anything; that’s a bad sign,” said Richard J. Reed, president of the Bangor Area Local 536 of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents 21 of those workers.
Work has leveled off since the USPS decision last month to shift some of its processing from the plant in Hampden to a newer, more technologically impressive facility in southern Maine, Reed said. Aside from that decreased workload, the union president said he thinks the shift has resulted in poorer standards of quality.
“Any changes made by the [USPS] are supposed to maintain a level of service and that’s just not happening,” Reed said, adding that customers and mail recipients are seeing longer-than-anticipated delays. Instead of a three- to five-day wait, it’s more like five to seven days, he said.
Tom Rizzo, a USPS spokesman for Maine, explained that the processing changes, which went into effect in early August, were an inevitable response to a declining national economy and a sharp decrease in mail volume.
“Considering the current challenges, it would be irresponsible not to improve the efficiency and economy of our operations,” Rizzo said, adding that the recent changes in Maine “parallel the changes in processing across the country.”
Rizzo disputed any decrease in service standards or an increase in unreasonable delays, insisting the facts don’t bear that out.
“Local mailers will continue to drop mail at Eastern Maine, and we have no reason to anticipate a negative impact in service levels,” he said. “We have a high level of service. In fact, our scores are at the highest levels in history, partly because of these changes.”
The two sides will discuss the changes later this week when Reed and other union representatives sit down with Sue Rogers, lead plant manager for the USPS in Maine.
Reed said he’s hopeful that the meeting will be productive. He worried, however, that the decrease in processing volume in Hampden will result in a number of relocations to the plant in Scarborough, which is more than two hours away.
“People are not going to lose their jobs, but if all of our mail processing moves south, that’s a big concern,” he said.
Rizzo acknowledged that there’s no glossing over the fact that mail volume in Maine is down 5 percent this year from last year. He also pointed out that the USPS is not taxpayer-supported, but a private entity funded solely with the profits it generates.
“We’ll continue to review all of our operations,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process and we do this in good times and less-than-good times. And if business conditions continue to flounder nationally, it may be necessary to re-examine those changes, although we’ll work diligently to balance the needs of our customers and our commitment to employees.”
Asked about whether the shift will result in relocation of employees from Hampden to Scarborough, Rizzo declined to answer specifically.
“The changes will impact some of our workers’ current hours, but all of our [personnel] decisions will be made in accordance with our collective bargaining agreement [with the union],” he said.
Reed said local legislators have responded to the situation with support, particularly U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who drafted a letter recently to the USPS postmaster general.
The union president also urged customers to let the USPS know if they are unhappy with the current service.