About 200 people, many of them postal workers and union representatives, packed the auditorium at Bayside High School on Friday outraged over the possible consolidation or closure of the Queens Processing and Distribution Center in Whitestone, which would result in the displacement of hundreds of workers.
Tensions ran high right from the beginning of the meeting, which was part of the U.S. Postal Service’s public outreach and comment period regarding the proposal. Not one speaker thought the agency’s latest cost-saving idea is a good one.
First-class mail is processed between midnight and 6 a.m. to allow for next day delivery. But under the Postal Service’s plan, processing would be done from midnight to noon the next day, allowing far fewer facilities to do much more work.
Queens mail would be transported 12 miles to be sorted at a plant in Brooklyn, producing an estimated annual savings of nearly $30.8 million, but cutting at least 700 jobs here. The deadline to submit public comments is Dec. 19, and the USPS is expected to complete the study underlying its proposal in about three months.
“We know this is an aggressive plan,” USPS Triboro District Manager Frank Calabrese said in Bayside, asserting that it is necessary to keep the agency afloat.
The plan is based on the idea of changing the one-day standard of delivery for first-class mail to two to three days, something that has not been approved yet.
Paul Hogrogian, president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union Local 300, said the plan would just perpetuate a vicious cycle of losing mail volume and cutting service. “They already call us snail mail,” he said. “What are they going to call us now?”
If the Queens facility is “consolidated,” as a USPS study recommends, 702 workers would be displaced, but if it is closed, which Calabrese said is a possibility, then more than 1,000 workers would need to look for a new home.
“What are you going to do with my people?” asked Robert Yaccarino, president of the Flushing branch of the American Postal Workers Union. “What are you going to do with 700 people? Do you know? Do you care?”
There are approximately 450 unfilled letter carrier positions in the Triboro area, according to Calabrese, to which some Queens workers could be transferred. Others who are approaching retirement age would be “encouraged” to do so, Calabrese said, without elaborating as to how.
Although it has never had to fire employees in the past, reducing its workforce mainly through attrition, that may now become a reality as the USPS is seeking the authority to do so, according to Calabrese, a statement which drew moans and groans from attendees.
“You have people who gave you 30, 40, years of their lives and you stand here and treat them like they’re garbage,” Yaccarino said. “It’s time for the Postal Service to respect these people, to show them something. If it wasn’t for these people, the Postal Service would have been in deep crap a long time ago. They are the only people who care about moving the mail. Management doesn’t care.”
The volume of mail that the USPS processes annually has fallen by 42 billion pieces in the past five years and will continue to decline, Calabrese said. As a result the mail processing network is much larger than the agency can afford.
“Prior to 2006 our operational goal was to stay ahead of the growth curve ... now our operational goal is to to stay ahead of the cost curve to make sure we have just enough capacity to meet local volumes,” Calabrese said of the financially strapped agency.
Since 2006, the volume of first-class mail has dropped 20 percent due to increased use of the Internet and the economic slowdown resulting in the USPS reducing its network by 200 processing facilities, which Calabrese said the agency did without negatively impacting customers.
Now the Postal Service is studying 252 more of its 487 plants nationwide for potential consolidation, an evaluation which should take about three months. Each location houses anywhere between 50 and 2,000 employees.
Morris Walker, who has worked as a mail handler at the Queens plant for 18 years, said the facility processes so much mail that employees are often asked to work overtime. He suggested that the USPS shift 702 of its higher-ranking management officials rather than dumping the burden on the “99 percent.”
“We came here to find out what was going to be the outcome,” Walker said. “Right now you are just telling us the same stuff that the plant manager in our building told us. So, we just came here for nothing, and now I have to go to work in an hour to move your mail, and do my job.”
John Dirizius, Northeast regional coordinator for the APWU, and many others believe the Postal Service’s financial problems could be solved if Congress did not force the agency to pre-fund 75 years worth of retirees’ health benefits 10 years in advance, putting the agency $5.5 billion dollars in debt.
“You don’t get out of that by cutting service,” Dirizius said. “You don’t get out of that by reducing delivery to five days. You get out of it by having Congress fix it, so we don’t have to go to all of these meetings.”
Several elected officials or their representatives at the meeting, also blasted the USPS stating that the plan would adversely affect both postal employees and customers.
They took issue with the meeting being held a little more than two weeks before the deadline for input and said it was unfair to ask people to opine about a study that hasn’t been completed and is predicated on a standard of mail delivery that has not been approved.
“I understand how the Postal Service is suffering from faxes and emails, but the way you cure the system is not to close facilities and close branches,” said state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside). “You are signing the death warrant for the entire Postal Service.”
Bill Dykes, corporate secretary of St. Michael’s World Apostolate in Bayside, which sends 50,000 pieces of bulk-rate mail and 30,00 pieces of first-class mail a year, said closing the facility would force the religious group to go to the Internet.
“We’re not going to start driving around College Point and Flushing looking for a place to drop off 10 or 15 trays and we are not going to shove it in a mailbox,” Dykes said. “... This plan doesn’t make any sense.”
Those wishing to submit written comments must have them postmarked by Dec. 19, and they should be sent to Manager, Consumer and Industry, Triboro District, 1050 Forbell St., Brooklyn NY 11256-9621.