HAMPDEN, Maine — A public meeting will be held in Brewer later this month to discuss a proposal to move U.S. Postal Service mail processing operations from Hampden to Scarborough as a cost-saving measure.
A Postal Service spokesman expects it to be well attended.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 29, at Jeff’s Catering in the East West Industrial Park.
“It’s a very important issue, not just to the community but to our employees as well,” said Tom Rizzo, USPS spokesman for the Northern New England District, which covers Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. “They’re concerned about job losses and changes in their job hours and locations.”
The USPS is studying all 252 processing plants around the country. In mid-September, the Northern New England District began a study of the possible consolidation of operations being performed at the Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Facility in Hampden, which opened in 1994 and employs 183 workers, to the Southern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Scarborough.
“The initial results of the study so far indicate we can consolidate the operations remaining there, but the initial finding is not a final decision. That will come after the public meeting,” Rizzo said. “There are a lot of things that are still on the table.”
The U.S. Postal Service has announced it has to cut $20 billion in operating costs by 2015 to turn a profit.
A deep decline in mail volume because of economic conditions and continuing electronic diversion has combined to create an excess of employees and equipment in some mail processing operations, according to Rizzo, but there are other significant financial factors.
“Our employees and our management are certainly concerned about providing a high level of service, but we’re also concerned about significant financial losses totaling $5.1 billion over the last fiscal year ending in September,” said Rizzo. “We also have a massive retiree health benefit payout, which is typically expressed as future retiree health benefits, and that has crippled us.”
Rizzo said that a requirement to pay 75 years’ worth of benefits over a 10-year window translates to about $5.5 billion a year between 2007 and 2017. He was referring to the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which requires the service to invest that amount to pay for future health care benefits for postal workers.
In a story in the Illinois Times newspaper on Thursday, Illinois Postal Workers Union President Bob Gunter said the Postal Service is essentially funding health care benefits for workers “who haven’t even been born yet.” Both Gunter and Rizzo said without the federal mandate, the Postal Service would have recorded a $611 million profit during the years spanning 2006 to 2010.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who has introduced a bill to reform and modernize the USPS by reducing operating costs, modernizing its business model and innovating to generate new income, said she plans to attend the meeting in Brewer.
“I have discussed the proposed closure of the Hampden facility with the Postmaster General and literally showed him a map of Maine to illustrate our huge distances,” Collins said in a press release. “If mail to and from the northern half of Maine has to travel all the way to the Scarborough plant to be processed, longer delivery times are inevitable and that has consequences — for small businesses advertising their products or billing their customers, for families who use the mail for their daily newspaper delivery, for seniors who rely on the mail for their prescription drugs, and for so many others.
“Once customers leave the Postal Service — which is awash in red ink and needs these customers’ business — they won’t be coming back.”
The Hampden facility, one of just two distribution centers in Maine, employs 172 full-time workers, nine managers and two part-timers, according to Rizzo.
A study was begun Sept. 15 at the Hampden facility to determine the feasibility of consolidating redundant operations to see if any efficiencies and cost savings would be achieved. While no final decision has been reached, Postal Service managers at the Dec. 29 meeting will give an overview of the reasons for the proposal and its possible outcomes and will listen to community comment and concerns.
U.S. Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, said she is concerned about the proposal and hopes USPS officials listen closely.
“Mail provides a critical communication link upon which Mainers in the northern woods, islands, and small rural towns rely,” Snowe said in a statement Thursday. “While I understand the Postal Service’s desire to reduce costs given the economic crisis it is facing, it is imperative that the Postal Service’s actions not have a detrimental impact on the timely and reliable mail delivery services that the people of Maine expect.”
A summary of the proposal and presentation materials will be made available online a week before the meeting at http://about.usps.com/streamlining-operations/area-mail-processing.htm. Anyone wishing to submit comments in writing may send them to Manager, Consumer and Industry Contact, Northern New England District, 151 Forest Ave., Portland 04101-7022. All comments must be postmarked Jan. 13, 2012.
BDN writer Dawn Gagnon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.