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2/24/2012 11:49:00 AM
Terre Haute facility one of eight in state postal service will shut down

Sue Loughlin, Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — The U.S. Postal Service says it will close eight mail processing operations across Indiana — including the one in Terre Haute — unless Congress enacts an alternative cost-cutting plan before May 15.

The mail processing operation in Terre Haute would be divided between Indianapolis and Evansville.

Specific dates have not been set for the transition, but no change will occur before a May 15 moratorium, said Mary Dando, USPS spokeswoman.

The Postal Service agreed to impose a moratorium “because Congress asked. But Congress has done nothing,” she said.

Earlier in the day Thursday, she indicated that action by Congress could potentially change the outcome. But by Thursday evening, she said, “We will go ahead with consolidation plans” and employee groups are being notified.

Mail operations in Bloomington, Kokomo, Lafayette, Muncie and Columbus will be moved to Indianapolis. Mail operations at Gary will go to a processing center in Bedford Park, Ill., while South Bend operations will move to Fort Wayne.

Ann Barnes, president of the American Postal Workers Local 618, said Thursday afternoon, “We’re still kind of in shock, but we’re not ready to give up yet.”

A Postal Service study indicated that moving mail processing operations out of Terre Haute would eliminate 36 positions and save more than $7.05 million annually.

The union estimates the number of jobs lost in Terre Haute would be much higher — closer to 100, Barnes said.

“It’s in Congress’ hands now,” she said. “They [Postal Service] are going to proceed with these plans of closing facilities based on the fact that Congress has not reacted or given any relief yet.”

She planned to attend a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday in which the Postal Service district manager was going to meet with employees at the Terre Haute facility.

If the processing operations close and the service standard for first-class mail changes from one-day delivery to two- or three-day delivery, “mail service will suffer,” she said. “People will not be able to depend on their mail service.”

The union has been “constantly contacting” its congressional representatives and contacted the office of 8th District Rep. Larry Bucshon Thursday, she said.

The Postal Service has said it “will honor our collective bargaining agreement,” which extends through May 2015, Barnes said. Under the agreement, “they can’t move us more than 50 miles away.”

Employees who lose jobs would be reassigned in accordance with collective bargaining agreements, Dando has said.

Doug Brown, president of the Indiana Postal Works Union, said the union has been told the Postal Service will go forward with the closing “unless Congress grants financial relief.”

The closings could begin by the end of June, he said.

The Postal Service wants Congress to provide financial relief by:

• Ending the requirement that the Postal Service prefund retiree health benefits currently costing $5.5 billion per year, and,

• Refunding to the Postal Service billions in overpayments made to the federal government for pension programs. The Postal Service then, in turn, could use that money to provide incentives for employees to retire, Brown said.

Brown said that if the processing centers close, many people will lose jobs and mail service will suffer in those communities.

Bucshon, a Republican, issued the following statement Thursday evening:

“I am disappointed the USPS has decided to close the processing center in Terre Haute. Congress did not force USPS to make these decisions nor can they stop them with any legislation that has been introduced. The actions by the USPS are nothing more than placing a band aid on the real problems they face. The USPS should have used this time to address labor costs and review their business model before playing politics with the futures of their employees.”

There will be no change to the retail operations or the business mail entry unit at the locations affected by consolidation at this time.

In December, the Postal Service agreed to impose a moratorium on closing or consolidating post offices and mail processing facilities to give Congress the opportunity to act on an alternative plan.

In the meantime, the Postal Service continued all necessary steps required for the review of these facilities, including public notifications, public meetings and consideration of public comments. Studies began five months ago.

Postal officials blamed a lack of business, according to a news release.

“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,” said Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan. “Consolidating operations is necessary if the Postal Service is to remain viable to provide mail service to the nation.”

The Postal Service has experienced a 25-percent decline in first-class mail volume since 2006 and receives no tax dollars for its operations. It relies on the sale of postage and postal products and services.

Related Stories:
• South Bend, Gary, Kokomo, Terre Haute, Bloomington, Lafayette, Muncie and Columbus face postal closings

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