Vermonters tell it like it is: The public meeting on the White River processing center

February 28, 2012

The USPS is looking at closing the White River Junction, VT Processing and and Distribution Center, which would result in the loss of hundreds of jobs for the area. In addition, the changes would deteriorate the delivery service for people all across the area. At the public hearing in White River Junction, members of the community spoke about the importance of the Post Office as a public good, and expressed their support for postal workers. For more information, go to savewhiteriverpdc.blogspot.com. This video was produced by the media committee of the Vermont Workers' Center: www.workerscenter.org/media

It hits the fan: The Postal Service can't wait to close the plants

February 23, 2012

The Postal Service has announced its decisions on the mail processing plants it's been studying for consolidation.  The APWU has the list of which plants are closing and which will remain open here.   

The list shows 264 plants that were being studied.  The Postal Service determined that 223 could be consolidated, entirely or in part (a few workers might remain).  Some 35 were disapproved for consolidation and will remain open; another six are still under study.

The Postal Service says 40 of the facilities slated for closure did not even go through an AMP study process because they were annexes or mail processing operations within "customer service facilties," which can be closed without a study.  While no public meeting is required for these plants, the Postal Service is inviting customers to provide feedback.  There's more information on the USPS FAQ page.

(If you have more information, like when you've heard a plant might close or the reasons for the decision, please hit the contact link at the top and send a note.)

The closings could begin as soon as May 19, a few days after the moratorium ends on May 15.  It’s going to be a very stressful week, to say the least, and the Washington Post tells us that the Postal Service is increasing security at the plants.  (It's good to know that the consolidation plan is already generating extra work for some sectors of the workforce.)

There are about 150,000 workers in the network of processing plants, and over half of them may be affected by the closings.  As many as 35,000 positions will eventually be eliminated by the consolidation plan, mostly through “attrition” — workers quitting or retiring because they can’t move the family or don’t want to make a long commute (like 50 miles — or more).  The USPS FAQ sheet says about 30,000 will be career employees, and the other 5,000 will be non-career posittions.

The Postal Service isn’t waiting to hear what the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) has to say about the Network Rationalization plan.  The PRC’s Advisory Opinion is due out in late summer, probably August or September, but the Postal Service plans to get started on the consolidations as early as May. 

It’s disconcerting that the Postal Service is in such a rush to begin closing the plants, especially considering that it has only itself to blame for when the Advisory Opinion will be ready.  The Postal Service could have submitted the Request for an Opinion four months earlier. 

In August, the Postal Service was already briefing “outside parties” (like industry stakeholders) about the plan, and as of late September, it intended to submit the Request in October.  But for some unknown reason, the Request was not submitted until December 5.  Perhaps one day we will learn the cause for that delay.

When the PRC announced its Procedural Schedule indicating that the Opinion wouldn’t be done until around August, the Postal Service filed a request to accelerate the schedule.  The PRC turned down that motion because moving too quickly would endanger due process.

In the reply to the Postal Service’s motion to speed things up, the Public Representative noted that the Postal Service itself had delayed submitting the request.  “The Postal Service’s need for the Commission to abandon prudence and hastily issue an advisory opinion is not, however, supported by the Postal Service’s actions.  The Postal Service notes that it briefed outside parties on August 9, 2011 about the network rationalization.  Likewise the Postal Service has produced documents in discovery demonstrating that it intended, as late as September of 2011, to submit an advisory opinion request to the Commission in October of 2011.  However, the Postal Service did not file its request until December 5, 2011.”

It’s not clear why the Postal Service is now in such a hurry and why it wants to close so many plants in such a short time.  It’s a sure formula for chaos in the mail system, and delays in delivering the mail will be inevitable, probably much worse than the change in service standards for First-Class mail that's already part of the plan.

Perhaps the Postal Service wants to increase pressure on Congress to pass legislation, perhaps management really believes its own hype about how dire the situation is, or perhaps they just want to amp up the sense of emergency to help further their agenda.

Whatever the reason, the Postal Service is basically thumbing its nose at the PRC and saying it doesn’t really care what the Advisory Opinion says.  Many of the plants will be closed before the Opinion even comes out. 

The PRC is the nation’s regulatory agency for the Postal Service, and it’s supposed to be ensuring that the Postal Service is in compliance with the law.  The Postal Service is essentially saying it doesn’t care about the law.  Let’s hope some of our legislators in Washington have a greater respect for the laws they make.  

A Civil Action: The People of the United States vs. The U.S. Postal Service

February 21, 2012

The Postal Service juggernaut keeps rolling on with its downsizing plans, and it seems prepared to crush whatever stands in its way — postal workers, post offices, communities, history.  There doesn’t seem to be anyone or anything that can stop it — not Congress, not the unions, not the Postal Regulatory Commission.  Perhaps it’s time for the People of the United States to take the U.S. Postal Service to court.  

The opportunity for a legal case presented itself just a few days ago when the Postal Service released its Environmental Assessment (EA) of the potential impacts of the Network Rationalization initiative, the plan to consolidate 250 processing plants.  The EA minimizes the potential effects of everything the Postal Service is planning to do, and the case, as they say, looks ripe for judicial review.

 

The FONSI Scheme

The EA was done pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires government agencies about to embark on an action that could have significant environmental impacts to conduct a thorough review prior to making decisions. 

On February 10, the Postal Service released the environmental assessment describing the impacts of the plan.  It’s called the Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA).  You can find a pdf of the PAE here.  (Note: It’s long — 170 pages plus appendices — and may take a while to download.)

Based on the results of the PEA, the Postal Service has issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), indicating that the Network Rationalization plan will not have a significant impact on the environment.

A finding of “no significant impacts” is pretty amazing when you consider that the PAE encompasses everything from air quality to socioeconomic factors, and when you also consider that the scope of the PAE is not limited to the plant consolidation plan.  NEPA requires agencies to consider the "cumulative effects" of a proposed action and the other related actions being proposed because effects may be exacerbated when they interact with each other.

The PAE thus considers several components of the USPS 2010 Action Plan, “Delivering the Future,” such as previous plant closings (AMPs), the Retail Access Optimization Initiative (RAOI) to close 3,652 post office, eliminating Saturday delivery, enhanced alternate sites like the Village Post Office, and disposition of “excess buildings.” 

That’s a lot to consider, but the PAE still does not go as far as it should have.  At the same time it was doing the PAE, the Postal Service was preparing its Five-Year Plan, and the new business plan goes much further than the 2010 Action Plan.  Just in terms of post offices, for example, closing all 3,652 post offices in the RAOI would save $200 million, but the Business Plan indicates a savings of $2 billion in the retail network. That could only come from closing many thousands of post offices — probably 15,000, the number mentioned several times by the Postmaster General.  The PAE does not even begin to consider the impacts of that component of the Five-Year plan.  (More on the business plan here.)

According to NEPA, the agency doing the environmental review can come to one of three conclusions: (1) the action is a “categorical exclusion” (i.e., it’s so minor there won’t be any significant impacts, like installing energy efficient lighting); (2) there will be a significant environmental impact, in which case the agency must proceed to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS); or (3) the impacts are uncertain, in which case the agency must prepare an environmental assessment (EA).  (There’s more about all this in the Citizen’s Guide to the NEPA.)

The Postal Service has gone down the third path, and the PAE, having reviewed the impacts, says the Network Rationalization plan, even combined with the RAOI and other actions, will not have a significantly adverse effect on the environment. 

The Postal Service has thus issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact."  The FONSI's main purpose is to show why the impacts will be negligible or at least not significant enough to merit a full Environmental Impact Statement.  That would have taken a lot of time and effort, and even more important, it would have given the public an opportunity to get involved in a very considerable way, with a draft EIS, scoping meetings, public comment periods, expert testimony, and a final EIS. 

The FONSI means that the environmental review of the Postal Service’s plans will have been very minimal, and the public will have essentially been excluded from any serious involvement with the process.  

A Mess in Maryland: Mail delayed and workers call for an investigation

February 20, 2012

Last year, when the Postal Service was studying the Processing and Distribution Center in Frederick, Maryland, for consolidation, postal officials said customers could expect the same level of service as before.  It doesn't look like things have worked out that way.  Numerous problems have come to the attention of the local press, and several former employees at the plan have filed a formal complaint with the USPS Inspector General.

On November 19, the Frederick P&DC was closed, and its processing work moved to the facility in Baltimore.  Frederick’s 180 employees were excessed to various other plants, including Baltimore (a congested 50-mile drive away) and Linthicum, Maryland (also 50 miles away). 

The consolidation actually began in October, and troubles occurred almost immediately.  Julie Maynard, editor and owner of The Brunswick Citizen and The Valley Citizen newspapers, told the Frederick News-Post on Nov. 21 that some of her customers still had not received papers that were printed Nov. 9.  Usually her subscribers receive the issue the day after it goes to press.  Maynard thinks that she lost a number of subscribers because of the delay, and she told the News-Post, “It’s just the beginning.”

As Christmas approached and mail volumes increased, the problems got worse.  The News-Post asked post office customers who had noticed a delay in mail service to contact the newsroom, and about 50 people responded.

One told the News-Post that medication refills he ordered in November from an online pharmacy in Florida were delivered to his home a month later.  A jewelry designer said pieces she sent to mail-order customers in early December had not reached their destinations two weeks later, forcing her to remake the pieces and resend them via UPS.  Other complaints described bills, insurance documents, and invitations that arrived late or never at all, and sale flyers arriving after the sale was over.

Last week, several of the former workers at the Frederick plant wrote a formal complaint to the USPS Inspector General.  The letter identifies examples of when the mail was significantly delayed, when mail was diverted to facilities other than Baltimore, and when trucks of mail were backed up for days, sometimes parked illegally on public roadways.  

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