MOUNT VERNON — In a time of economic uncertainty, things are especially unsettled for more than 575,000 U.S. Postal Service career workers.
In light of unmanageable deficits and mounting debt, looming Postal Service closings include fully half of the nation’s 500 mail processing centers and more than 10 percent of branch offices, with both local and state ramifications.
First-class postage accounts for nearly two-thirds of the Postal Service’s $68 billion in annual revenue, and a steady decline in use of first-class mail, along with the high cost of health care and retirement programs, has the post office on the ropes.
While first-class mail volume has dropped 20 percent since 2006, cost-reduction efforts have reportedly saved more than $12 billion over the same period. But deficits have nevertheless continued to grow, and barring a major reversal bankruptcy is a distinct possibility.
Deep cost cuts — through facilities streamlining, a reduced labor force, self-administration of restructured employee benefit packages and reduced five-day-a-week mail delivery — have been proposed by the not-for-profit government agency. Its managers believe that a leaner Postal Service can continue to anchor the $1 trillion mail and package delivery industry for years to come. But a Congressionally imposed moratorium on closings has much of the proposed austerity program on hold until at least May 2012.
In the meantime, there will be some budgetary relief when first-class postage is increased on Jan. 22 from 44 cents to 45 cents for envelopes weighing up to two ounces. Career postal workers who retire, resign or take early retirement will often not be replaced, resulting in workforce reduction by attrition without layoffs. New services and marketing efforts will aim to enhance revenue streams. But those limited measures will at best chip away at a massive deficit that hit $8 billion in 2010, and postal workers including those in the local community will continue to face an unsettled future.
“It’s a hard time for our employees,” said Mount Vernon Postmaster Cindy O’Brien. “There is a ‘no layoff’ clause in our employee labor relations manual covering people who have been on the job five or more years, but moving people around to cover openings is possible. Several of our people have been relocated from other locations, and that can be a hardship.”