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Wednesday, March 21,2012

Sorting it out

Pondering the fallout of closing the United States Postal Service’s Collins Road sorting facility

by Joan Bolander
Jesus Gonzales needs an Act of Congress.

The 39-year-old president of the Central Michigan Area Local of the American Postal Workers Union called U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s office in Washington on a recent Friday morning. He was trying to convince the senator to introduce legislation to implement an alternative study to the one commissioned by the United States Postal Service suggesting the mail sorting facility at 4800 Collins Road in Lansing needs to close.

Closing the facility would not only result in layoffs but also in a delay in receiving local first-class mail.

Congress has put a moratorium on implementing the recommendations of the study until May 15, reportedly in order to come up with more comprehensive postal reform.

At risk is the fate of roughly 400 facility employees, not including the vendors who do business with the facility, according to Gonzales, a clerk for 18 years. “They’ll go full throttle after the 15th if Congress doesn’t respond,” he said.

Postal Service spokeswoman Sabrina Todd said the study looked at over 200 facilities across the United States. The Lansing facility was chosen because of its large size. Closing it would provide the largest savings in cost and space utilization compared to other facilities in the region, she said. 

She added that although the sorting facility has been singled out in the study, there aren’t any guarantees of what’s going to happen after the May 15 deadline. 

“I can’t say whether the facility will be closed at this time,” she said. “I don’t have any specifics.”

Todd said layoff decisions would be worked out with the union’s human resources and labor department.

The results of the Postal Service study, announced last September, identify 252 sorting facilities across the country for possible closure in order to cut costs at the struggling government agency. Under the plan, mail from the Lansing area would be sorted in Grand Rapids. 

After the deadline, the fate of Collins Road employees is unclear. According to their collective bargaining agreement, Gonzales said, all employees are eligible for transfer within a 50-mile radius. Grand Rapids is outside that radius.

In terms of mail service, residents would see the difference immediately if the mail is sorted in Grand Rapids. Gonzales and Todd agree that locally generated first-class mail that usually would take one day to be delivered would take two to three days to get to its destination.

Gonzales said this has direct consequences for local businesses: This overnight service is essential to many, including the State of Michigan, Auto-Owners Insurance and Consumers Energy. They rely on the postal service to get business done.

“People still mail mail,” he said.

Gonzales said he wouldn’t be asking for the second study if there had been more transparency in the process used to decide closing the Lansing facility by USPS executives. 

The decision to close the Collins Road facility doesn’t make much sense to him, and there are other steps the Postal Service can take to cut costs, Gonzales added. It relies on a labor-heavy workforce and responds slowly to change, he said. Moreover, the Postal Service could pay more attention to employee recommendations of ways to improve efficiency within the facility, he added. 

And the Collins Road facility is wholly owned by the Postal Service, while three of the four facilities in Grand Rapids are leased, according to Gonzales. The Lansing facility is also larger than three of the Grand Rapids facilities combined, he said. 

“The Postal Service is going to have to pay more money to accommodate this consolidation,” Gonzales said.

And then there’s the price of gas. 

“They’re going to add more fuel cost to transfer that mail across the state,” said Gonzales. 

Despite the questions and the looming deadline, Gonzales is certain of one thing about potential layoffs: They will hurt the local economy.

“We need to keep work here in Lansing,” he said.

 

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