Tulsa mail sorting center to close in 2014, workers say they were told
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Friday, May 18, 2012
5/18/12 at 7:27 AM
Workers at Tulsa's U.S. Postal Service Processing and Distribution Center maintained Thursday they've been told the facility is slated to close in 2014 despite the Postal Service's insistence that no such decision has been reached.
"We were told we are not in the first phase to close in 2013 but we are in the second phase for 2014," American Postal Workers Union member Cynthia McNeillance said Thursday evening. "If there's a downturn in volume, we could close sooner."
The Postal Service announced Thursday that it now intends to close 140 of its 461 distribution centers by February and will begin closing another 89 in early 2014 "unless the circumstances of the Postal Service change."
Workers at the facility said plant manager Mike Melendrez told employees Thursday night that their center is one of the 89 on the chopping block for 2014.
The Postal Service's Dionne Montague, though, said "there is no list of 89" and that "the Tulsa plant is not confirmed for Phase II."
Montague said she didn't know why the Postal Service specifically stated 89 centers would be closed in Phase II if the centers had not been identified.
"It may be that 89 is the number they need to get to" to reach an ultimate goal for plant closures, she said.
Certainly, the perception that the Tulsa center is in trouble seems to be quite real. A sign has appeared across from the employee exit advertising assistance for homeowners going through foreclosure.
Another sign, this one on the facility's fence, says the center actually has jobs available - for temporary workers.
"We've had 13 people leave in the last few weeks to become (letter) carriers," said employee Debbie Cantrell.
The center, which processes mail for most of eastern Oklahoma, normally employs 600 people. If the plant is closed, it is expected that most of those jobs would be shifted to Oklahoma City or eliminated.
Under that scenario, Oklahoma City would have the state's only mail processing and distribution center.
Cantrell and Darlene Holland said Thursday that they were a little more optimistic than they were Wednesday.
Cantrell said Melendrez told workers that "it looks like we got another year. We're not on the first list, but we're on the second. You need to keep on doing what you're doing."
McNeillance and Stacy Boyd said workers were told the facility is almost certain to close in 2014 unless the Postal Service drops plans to change delivery standards by extending the time expected to deliver first-class mail.
Originally, the Postal Service said it wanted to eliminate overnight first-class delivery as a cost-saving measure, but Thursday's announcement was more ambiguous on the subject. It said the Postal Service will publish proposed standards on Friday that would "initially shrink the geographic reach of overnight service to local areas" and, with the Phase II closures, lead to "long-term service standards that would significantly revise mail-entry times for customers seeking overnight delivery."
In other words, overnight delivery would still be possible in some cases, but would require mail to be posted much earlier in the day to reach its destination the next day.
The Postal Service is expected to lose $14 billion this fiscal year, largely because of declining single-piece first-class mail and a 2006 law requiring it to prepay employee benefit costs.
Postal workers say a bill passed by the Senate last month would go a long way toward stabilizing the agency's finances, but Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe says it doesn't go far enough, and House Republicans are pushing an even more drastic approach.
First District Congressman John Sullivan said he and U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe will continue working "to make the business case to keep Tulsa's mail center open and fighting to keep these jobs right here in Tulsa.
"It's no secret that the Postal Service needs to modernize its business plan to survive, but eliminating your most efficient facilities is only going to make the problem worse," Sullivan said.
"There are many indicators of growth in volume and revenue at the Tulsa facility," said Metro Chamber President Mike Neal. "It is irresponsible of the USPS to consider closing one of its most efficient processing centers."
What it means
The plan announced Thursday calls for reducing overnight delivery zones, perhaps as early as July 1, and closing 140 processing and distribution centers by February 2013. An additional 89 centers would close beginning in early 2014, when overnight delivery zones would again shrink.
Tulsa's distribution is not among the 140 slated to close in Phase I of the plan but could be included in Phase II. If it is, all Oklahoma mail would be shipped to Oklahoma City for sorting.
Original Print Headline: Workers: Mail center to close in 2014
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365
A sign points the way to a mail processing facility in east Tulsa. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World