The U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday that it plans to move mail processing and distribution out of Augusta, one of 223 closings nationwide, which ultimately will lengthen the time it takes first-class mail to get from one mailbox to the next.
The closures will affect more than 30,000 postal workers and save about $2.1 billion a year, according to figures provided by the Postal Service.
“As a result of studies begun five months ago, the Postal Service has made the decision to move all mail processing operations from the Augusta Processing and Distribution Facility to the Columbia, S.C., and Macon Processing and Distribution Centers,” according to a news release from the Postal Service. “Once the transfer is completed, the mail processing operation in Augusta will cease.”
The announcement listed 13 other facility closings in Georgia, including Athens and Swainsboro, and one in South Carolina.
A date has not been set for the transition, and there would be no change to retail service at the Augusta post office, according to the announcement. Also, bulk mail services provided at the main Augusta post office will not be affected by the closure, Postal Service spokesman Stephen Seewoester said.
Seewoester said the number of employees affected in Augusta has not been determined. Some employees might move to other jobs at other facilities, he said. The Postal Service previously said there could be 30 jobs lost, with 80 employees transferring to expanded plants in Macon, Ga., and Columbia.
“We won’t know the number of employees who will be leaving our workforce until much later in this process,” Seewoester said in an e-mail. “We project nationally a reduction of 30,000 full-time and 5,000 noncareer positions.”
He said the announcement was made to provide time for planning and notification to employees to comply with existing labor agreements.
It caught some by surprise, however, considering the Postal Service had agreed in December to a moratorium on closing or consolidating post offices and mail-processing facilities until May 15.
“Not only was I not informed, but we had a fixed and firm agreement from the Postal Service that we would be notified before any announcement to Postal Service customers or employees,” said U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga.
Barrow said the agreement was to allow time for his office to advocate on behalf of his constituents.
He said even after he heard about the announcement Thursday, he had trouble getting complete information from the Postal Service.
“We can’t get a straight answer,” he said.
The Postal Service said the planned consolidation is contingent on the “outcome of pending rulemaking for a proposal to revise existing service standards,” which would lengthen the time it takes some mail to be delivered.
“The decision to consolidate mail-processing facilities recognizes the urgent need to reduce the size of the national mail-processing network to eliminate costly underutilized infrastructure,” Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan said. “Consolidating operations is necessary if the Postal Service is to remain viable to provide mail service to the nation.”
Mark Barkley said he visits the Augusta main post office at least twice each week with business mail that needs to be delivered across the country. He mailed more than 400 pieces of mail Thursday.
“I certainly am not in favor of it,” he said, referring to the closure.
Barkley said he probably would resort to paying extra to have some mail taken directly to the processing center in Columbia to make sure it gets delivered in a timely manner.
“It won’t be free, but I may have to do that,” he said.
Gerald Engelking said he also relies on timely delivery because he works as a courier for a law office in Augusta. He said he often brings mail downtown to the Augusta office to ensure it is processed the same day. Closing the Augusta mail processing center will be a problem for his employers he said.
“That’s not going to help us out,” he said.
Barrow said he hopes there is still a way to keep Augusta’s center open, but even if that doesn’t happen, there needs to be more discussion put into revamping America’s postal system.Saving one processing plant will not have a great impact when so many others are closing, he said, and the result will be felt by businesses that rely on mail delivery across the nation. He said he is not sure the full economic impact has been calculated by those looking at the Postal Service’s bottom line.
“It will result in a delay of all the mail, all of the time,” Barrow said.