Augusta postal workers speak against processing center closing



Lonnie Colton was in the U.S. Postal Service uniform he has worn for 24 years when he faced the four men in suits and ties Thursday night.

With other mail carriers, Postal Service retirees and residents, he tried to tell corporate America why losing any part of the mail service in Augusta would impact daily life.

“How do you provide a service by cutting a service?” Colton told the panel. “We’re putting pressure on the blue-collar worker.”

Postal Service corporate representatives came to Augusta on Thursday to hear public opinion about a proposal to remove mail processing operations from the city’s main post office branch. About 100 people attended the meeting in the Kroc Center, and all who spoke were against the change.

“We work our tails off for years, and we have pride in our job, and the decisions they’re making now don’t take that into consideration,” said Ben Panzella, a 30-year Augusta postal worker.

Postal Service officials are considering consolidating Augusta’s mail processing operations with those in Macon, Ga., and Columbia to save a proposed $4.9 million.

The change would make it so all mail, including letters being sent within Augusta, would have to first be shipped to Macon to be sorted before being delivered to their destinations. On the South Carolina side of Augusta’s current mail distribution area, all mail sent even locally within, for example, Aiken County, would first go to Columbia.

The extra step would do away with overnight delivery and make it so standard mail would take two to three days on average, according to Eric Chavez, the Postal Service’s North Florida District manager.

The Augusta post office would still provide window services, and carriers would still deliver mail to homes and businesses, but an estimated 75 positions would be removed by closing the mail processing center.

On Thursday, as Postal Service representatives passed a microphone around the Kroc Center’s auditorium, residents asked for an alternative.

Lowell Greenbaum, the chairman of the Richmond County Democratic Party, said no overnight delivery would affect how voters receive last-minute absentee ballots before an election.

For those who depend on medication through the mail or Social Security checks, the changed schedule would be “devastating,” said Karen Gilmore, the president of the Augusta-area American Postal Workers Union.

Workers also spoke about rumors that mail carrier service would dwindle to five days a week from the current six days.

Chavez said that while the consolidation would save the Postal Service money, no final decisions have been made.

The Postal Service agreed to postpone any office closings or consolidations across the country until May after requests from several U.S. senators.

While some in the audience were skeptical about how much their opinions would affect any decisions, Earl Artis, the manager for corporate communications for the Postal Service’s Southwest Area, said all input matters.

“These opinions are considered,” he said. “There will be a Postal Service in the future. It may be different than what we now have, but it will be there. Despite every message you can send on the Internet, you still can’t e-mail a package.”

Augusta processing center closing could cause problems