The Postal Service has notified unions and management associations of several updates in its transformation of the processing and delivering networks. Employees at five more P&DCs have been notified that their facility is under review for consolidation, and a recent presentation to the unions and management associations has revealed the locations of 17 more Sorting & Delivery Centers (S&DCs) in five regions, where 500 post offices could lose their carriers.
The Postal Service is just getting started on transforming the network, but it’s already clear that the changes will be massive. Last month PRC Commissioner Robert Taub told Congress that the Delivering for America plan may represent “the most fundamental change to the network since Ben Franklin was the postmaster general.”
Despite the significance of the transformation now underway, there has been virtually no pushback from stakeholders or government entities.
The USPS OIG recently issued a report on the S&DC initiative, but it focused mostly on relatively minor issues, like how the Postal Service communicated the plan to stakeholders (discussed here). The OIG has announced no plans for further investigation.
The PRC is doing a public inquiry into the DFA plan, but the three information requests issued thus far have not even begun to probe the plan in a way comparable to the scrutiny given to previous large-scale initiatives. Instead, the Commission and the Postal Service are wrangling over the PRC budget (now under USPS control), what information requests are appropriate, and whether the Commission should even be looking at the DFA plan and S&DC initiative.
There has been some resistance to the plant consolidations and S&DC conversions from postal workers, as reviewed in the latest CPWU newsletter. Employees in Medford, Oregon, rallied against the consolidation of its P&DC, and workers in Charlotte, NC, recently protested the job cuts there. Many local APWU leaders have been vocal in their opposition to the plan. But for the most part, the postal unions seem on board with the plan.
NALC is anticipating more members thanks to the longer routes caused by S&DCs. That may be good for the union, but the S&DC plan will lead to longer commutes for many carriers.
The APWU may be challenging the plan behind the scenes, but it has apparently signed a non-disclosure agreement with the USPS limiting what it can share with members and the public, so who knows? The union may believe that the clerk and processing jobs lost to consolidations can be replaced by new transportation jobs, as the Postal Service looks to insource highway contract routes.
Most of the mailers and shippers associations have been quiet as well. They’ll probably be the main beneficiaries of the consolidation of processing and delivery units, since they’ll be able to drop shipments at fewer, centralized delivery units. And if consolidations reduce costs, it will decrease the pressure to increase rates.
With a few exceptions, members of Congress and the Biden administration have shown no interest in challenging DeJoy’s leadership, and they’ve had almost nothing to say about the transformation of the network. The one issue that they cared about was electrification of the delivery fleet, and now that Postal Service has committed to making 62 percent of the vehicle purchase electric — as opposed to just 10 percent as initially proposed — postal matters are on the back burner. (The final SEIS on the new fleet came out a few days ago.)
So, the implementation continues. Sorting machines are being removed from plants, tours are being changed, routes are getting longer, carriers are commuting farther, and employees at plants and post offices are receiving excess notices. Average customers are already experiencing service declines — delays getting their PO Box mail (one of the issues the OIG report did deal with), staffing cuts at post offices, longer lines at the window, and so on. Eventually and inevitably, they’ll also have to deal with the relocation or closure of their post office.
The Postal Service is beginning the public phase of the Mail Processing Facility Reviews (MPFR, formerly Area Mail Processing, or AMP studies) for five more P&DCs. Surveys are being conducted, and a public meeting will soon be announced. These planned consolidations are:
- Trenton, NJ P&DC into Philadelphia P&DC (survey)
- Provo, UT P&DC into Salt Lake City Auxiliary Service Facility (survey)
- Greenville, SC P&DC into Charlotte LPC and Charlotte RPDC (survey)
- South Suburban (Chicago), IL P&DC into Chicago South RPDC (survey)
- Minneapolis, MN P&DC into St. Paul, MN P&DC (survey)
The notifications don’t get specific, but these “losing” facilities will be downgraded to Local Processing Centers (LPCs), which handle only letters and flats destined for ZIP codes in their area.
The South Suburban and Greenville facilities will also house S&DCs; perhaps the others will as well. Since some of these facilities may also “gain” an S&DC, the Postal Service isn’t using the term “losing facility” anymore, but the consolidations will lead to excessing of many processing jobs.
A sixth consolidation is also taking place in Beaumont, TX, where the P&DC is also in the process of becoming an LPC. A MPFR has not been announced for this one, perhaps because it has been in the works for a long time and an AMP study was done previously. Four other MPFRs were previously announced for the P&DCs in Eugene and Medford in Oregon and Macon and Augusta in Georgia, as discussed in this post.
That brings the total to ten consolidations so far, but eventually nearly 200 P&DCs could be downgraded to LPCs and/or S&DCs. A list of 180 confirmed and potential LPCs and their Regional Processing & Distribution Centers (RPDCs) is here, as discussed here; there’s more about LPCs in this post.
The Postal Service has also announced that four more Surface Transfer Centers are closing in: Atlanta, GA; Springfield, MA; Capitol Metro in Washington, DC, and Southern California. These STCs are staffed mostly by non-postal employees, but twenty non-bargaining postal employees have received RIF separation notices. (More details here.)
The Postal Service has also shared another update on the Sorting & Delivery Center initiative.
The update list for facilities being converted to S&DCs is pretty much the same as the previous list distributed in July, as discussed in this post. A few conversions set to launch in September 2023 have, however, been postponed, with the new launch date “to be determined”: Bridgeport, CT; Columbia, SC; Morgantown, WV; Rockford, IL; West Lane Station, Stockford, CA; and the Downtown Station, Tulsa, OK. The conversion of the Canton P&DF to S&DC, scheduled for February 2024, has also been postponed, date TBD.
The update provides some details about four of the country’s 61 regions: Chicago, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Portland. A previous presentation had provided information about Richmond (discussed in this previous post), so there are now five regions to examine.
According to the presentations, these regions will have a total of 26 S&DCs. Several have appeared on previous lists, but 17 of them have not been previously identified. Here’s the full list of 26. (View on Google Docs, tab “26 S&DCS in 5 regions.”)
Previous presentations have provided the locations of 46 other S&DCs. Of these, 24 have already been launched, 15 are scheduled to be launched in Feb 2024, and 7 have no launch date. That brings the total to 64 S&DCs. (A list is on Google Docs, tab “64 S&DCs as of 9-11-23.”)
The presentations on the five regions provide maps with the names of the S&DCs, but not their addresses, so in a few cases, this list may have the wrong facility location. The launch dates for each S&DC vary, but it looks as if most of them should be in action sometime in 2024.
It’s not clear if the S&DCs in the maps represent the sum total of all the S&DCs planned for the region. Probably not. The five regions have 26 S&DCs, an average of about five each, but the Postal Service has previously stated there will be about 600 S&DCs, an average of ten per region. This suggests that the presentations may be incomplete, and more S&DCs may be added later.
Longer routes, higher costs
The five regions encompass five Regional Processing & Delivery Centers, 16 Local Processing Centers, 26 Sorting & Delivery Centers (some co-housed with LPCs), and about 2,500 post offices. (A list of all these facilities is here, tab “Five regions.”)
About 1,500 of these post offices have delivery units, and 490 of them are within a 30-minute drive from one of the S&DCs — the maximum “reach” set by the Postal Service — and could become “spoke” offices of the S&DC “hubs.” A list is here, tab “Potential Spokes.”
In some cases, the drive time may be 30 minutes at some points during the day, but more than 30 minutes when traffic is heavy, so not all 490 may become spokes. Also, it’s likely that some of the S&DCs are not large enough to absorb routes from all their potential spokes.
The average distance between these spoke offices and their S&DCs is about 12 miles, each way. The average drive time is about 18 minutes.
For the country as a whole, the average route is about 25 miles (21 for city routes, 35 for rural routes) — about 6 miles for transit back and forth between the post office and the route, plus 19 miles for the route itself .
If the S&DC system were to add 20 miles to the transit distance, it would quadruple transit miles and almost double the length of the average route. If eventually 100,000 routes were consolidated to S&DCs, another 10 miles and 15 minutes each way would add up to 600 million additional miles annually, 15 million additional work hours, and something on the order of $1.6 billion in additional costs. (See this post for more about the calculations.)
These costs will manifest themselves in additional routes. The Postal Service has shared very little data on this issue, but the presentations it has shared indicate that S&DCs will require 5 to 10 percent more routes.
These additional costs will be partially offset by eliminating some clerks at post offices and reducing dependence on Highway Contract Routes used to deliver mail to the spoke offices (which will no longer be necessary when the carriers are working out of the S&DCs). But it’s hard to see how these reductions will add up to anything like $1.6 billion, or more.
It’s important to note that neither the OIG nor the PRC has asked the Postal Service to provide any estimates of the additional miles, work hours, routes, and costs that will be incurred by moving carriers to S&DCs, and how these new costs will be offset by reductions elsewhere.
Excess space, lots of it
When a post office loses its carriers to an S&DC and some of the clerk positions are eliminated as well, more than half the building will become excess space.
The 490 spoke offices in the five regions average 11,400 square feet and encompass a total of about 5.4 million square feet. Relocating carriers and reducing the number of clerks could create something like 3 million square feet of excess space. This will inevitably lead to relocating retail services to smaller spaces and, in some cases, closing the post office completely.
The larger the post office, the more likely it is to be impacted by losing carriers. Excess space in smaller facilities may not be worth the cost and effort of relocation. But 250 of the potential spoke offices have more than 8,000 square feet, and the Postal Service owns 200 of them. When operations are down to a skeleton crew of clerks at the window, the Postal Service will look to relocate or close and put the building up for sale. About 30 of these properties are historic buildings from the New Deal era, most of them in Chicago.
The Postal Service has said repeatedly that no post office will close as part of the S&DC initiative, but it has said nothing about relocating retail services, and it has clearly indicated that closures could eventually take place under the Delivering for America plan, just not as part of the S&DC initiative. When the closures and disposals do come and excess space is cited as a reason, it will be too late to call out the Postal Service for being disingenuous about the cause of the closures and property disposals.
The half and the half not
The USPS Second-Year Progress Report on DFA states that the new S&DC network “will optimize delivery in [its] busiest markets.” The Postal Service has told the PRC that since there will not be an S&DC everywhere, some communities will not receive the direct benefits of an S&DC, such as the ability to drop packages for delivery to an entire local market from a single consolidated location. In other words, people who live within a 30-minute reach of an S&DC will get same- and next-day delivery provided through USPS Connect, while those living outside the S&DC service areas won’t get this benefit.
The total population of the five regions is about 30 million. Around half of them live within the S&DC service areas; the other half live outside these areas.
If there are eventually more S&DCs in these regions, more people will fall within an S&DC service area, but there will still be millions living outside, and they will be mostly in rural areas.
Overall, for the five regions, about 80 percent of the population live in urban areas — that’s also the national average. But the S&DC service areas are much more urban than the surrounding areas. About 94 percent of the population inside the S&DC areas are urban, while only 65 percent of the population outside these areas are urban.
Looking at the ZIP codes that are more than 90 percent urban (17.3 million), 72 percent live within an S&DC area; for those that are more than 90 percent rural (about 2.5 million people), only 9 percent live within an S&DC area. If there are eventually more S&DCs in these regions than the 26 identified so far, they’ll likely be located in urban areas, and the disparity between urban and rural will be even greater.
Providing same- and next-day delivery to people living in “the busiest markets” and not providing the same service to those living elsewhere would appear to be a perfect example of discriminating against some users of the mail, particularly when most of those users live in rural areas.
This is obviously unfair, and it may violate the legal prohibition against discriminating against some users of the mail. According to 39 U.S.C.§403, “in establishing classifications, rates, and fees under this title, the Postal Service shall not … make any undue or unreasonable discrimination among users of the mails.” (See this post for more.)
Here are a few additional notes on the five regions. The data on population, facilities, etc., can be found on Google Docs, tab “Summary Calculations.”
The plans for Atlanta were originally shared over a year ago in a USPS presentation. The locations of S&DCs have changed somewhat, but the basic configuration has remained the same.
The region’s RPDC is in Palmetto. It has four LPCs: Crown Road Atlanta (301-303, 311 and 399); North Metro (300, 305, 306); Macon (304, 310, 312, 318-319); and Augusta (298, 308-309). The Postal Service has already announced excessing for the Augusta and Macon facilities, as discussed in this post.
The region has eight S&DCs, five in the metro Atlanta area — Acworth, Atlanta NDC, North Metro Atlanta, Crown Road Atlanta, North Atlanta — and three outside Atlanta — Columbus, South Macon, and Athens. An earlier version of the plan included a second S&DC in the Macon Annex. It’s likely that another S&DC would encompass the Augusta area.
The map in the USPS presentation doesn’t provide their addresses, so it’s not certain where they all are. For example, the Acworth S&DC (misspelled Ackworth on the map) is probably the Carrier Annex on McEver Industrial Drive, but it could also be the main post office or some other facility in the area.
According to the Postal Service’s presentation, the region has 547 post offices, 303 of them with delivery units. About 110 DUs are within 30-minutes of these S&DCs and could become spoke offices.
On the map, the red dots are potential spoke offices. Data on which offices have delivery units is hard to come by, so the yellow dots are post offices that probably have delivery units but are outside the 30-minute reach of an S&DC; the blue dots are post offices that probably don’t have delivery units (finance units and Remotely Managed Post Offices, i.e., the small rural offices that had their hours cut under POStPlan).
Now here’s a map showing the S&DC service areas (red) and the rest of the region (blue). An interactive version is here.
The Atlanta region has a population of 8 million, and 78 percent live in urban areas. About 42 percent live within the S&DC service areas, and 95 percent of these areas are urban. For the 58 percent living outside the S&DC service areas, 66 percent are urban.
Chicago South Region
The Chicago South region encompasses ZIP codes 463, 464, 604, 605, 606, 607, 608, 609, 613, 615, 616, 617, and 618, as well as several for military bases. It has its RPDC in Forest Park. (A second region, Chicago North, has its RPDC in Palatine, but its S&DCs have not been announced, so this region is not part of the following analysis.)
The LPCs in Chicago South are the South Suburban, Cardiss Collins, Champaign, and Gary. There are six S&DCs in the region. The South Suburban and Cardiss Collins facilities will also co-house S&DCs. Four other S&DCs will be in Champaign, Peoria, Hammond, and Gary. As noted above, employees at the South Suburban P&DC have been notified that their facility is being reviewed for consolidation.
The region has 518 post offices, 310 of them with delivery units. About 125 DUs are within 30-minutes of these S&DCs and could become spoke offices.
Here’s a map showing the S&DC service areas (red) and the rest of the region (blue). An interactive version is here.
The Chicago region has a population of 7.4 million, and 93 percent live in urban areas. About 64 percent live within the S&DC service areas; 97 percent of these areas are urban. For the 36 percent living outside the S&DC service areas, 85 percent are urban.
The Charlotte region encompasses ZIP code prefixes 242, 246, 280, 281, 282, 286, 287, 288, 289, 293, 296, 297, and 376. It has an RPDC in the new facility in Gastonia, plus three LPCs: Charlotte, Greenville, and Johnson City.
The presentation shows four S&DCs in the region: Charlotte, Asheville, and two in Greenville. This is likely an incomplete and perhaps incorrect picture of the region: Why would there be two S&DCs in Greenville and only one in Charlotte? In any case, as noted above, employees at the Greenville P&DC have been notified that their facility is being reviewed for consolidation.
The region has 514 post offices, 306 of them with delivery units. About 82 DUs are within 30-minutes of these S&DCs and could become spoke offices.
Here’s a map showing the Charlotte region and the S&DC service areas within it. An interactive version is here.
The Charlotte region has a population of 5.8 million, and 66 percent live in urban areas. About 39 percent live within the S&DC service areas, and 87 percent of these areas are urban. For the 61 percent living outside the S&DC service areas, 52 percent are urban.
The Portland region encompasses ZIP code prefixes 970, 971, 972, 973, 974, 975, 976, 977, 978, and 986. It has an RPDC in the Portland facility built a few years ago, and three LPCs: one in the RPDC, plus Eugene and Medford. The Postal Service has already announced excessing for the Eugene and Medford facilities.
The region has four S&DCs. Two are co-housed with the LPCs in Eugene and Medford; the other two are in Salem and Beaverton. The Beaverton facility could be the post office on Betts Avenue in Beaverton, a leased facility that’s rather small for an S&DC. The more likely location is the Evergreen Carrier Unit in Hillsboro, an owned facility sufficiently large for an S&DC.
The region has 406 post offices, 307 with delivery units. About 84 DUs are within 30-minutes of these S&DCs and could become spoke offices.
Here’s a map showing the Portland region and the S&DC service areas within it. An interactive version is here.
The Portland region has a population of 4.4 million, and 81 percent live in urban areas. About 52 percent live within the S&DC service areas, and these areas are 92 percent urban. For the 48 percent living outside the S&DC service areas, 69 percent are urban.
The Richmond region encompasses ZIP code prefixes 233, 234, 235, 236, 237, 279, 224, 225, 229, 230, 231, 232, 238, 239, 244. The RPDC is located in Sandston, which may also house an LPC; two other LPCs will be in Norfolk and Rocky Mount. The Norfolk facility will also house an S&DC; three other S&DCs will be in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Hampton.
The region has about 513 post offices; about 281 probably have delivery units. About 90 DUs could become spoke offices.
Here’s a map showing the Richmond region and the S&DC service areas within it. An interactive version is here.
The region has a population of 4 million, and 74 percent live in urban areas. About 58 percent live within the S&DC service areas, and 92 percent of these areas are urban. For the 42 percent living outside the S&DC service areas, 49 percent are urban. There’s more about the Richmond region and the discrimination issue in this previous post.
For more about the plant consolidations and S&DC initiative, visit our DFA dashboard.
— Steve Hutkins