January  20,  2012

Bid to move mail-processing
unit draws heated opposition

Members of Delaware's congressional delegation blasted the United States Postal Service for refusing to let them see the survey which led to a proposal to significantly downsize the large mail facility on Quigley Boulevard near Hares Corner.

Senator Tom Carper said he doesn't have any information upon which to base a decision about whether the move is justified. "I don't know [if] this is cost-effective. We just don't have the information," he told more than 500 people -- mostly postal employees -- at a public meeting on Jan 19.

Senator Chris Coons said that access to data gathered, purportedly, to justify the move, is necessary "for us to make tough decisions. ... I want to see the numbers. ... Show me the math."

"Make sure we have all the data to do our homework" because the move affects "the future of our state and the future of our economy,"  Representative John Carney said.

A plan recently made public calls for the merger of several "underutilized" [sic] mail processing units around the nation with others that are supposedly better situated and have excess capacity. It calls for operations at the one near Hares Corner -- the only one in Delaware -- to be relocated to the one in Bellmawr, N.J., east of Philadelphia and about 35 miles from the Delaware Memorial Bridge crossing.

Receiving bulk mail, distributing mail received from Bellmawr -- including mail that originated in Delaware -- to post offices throughout the state and retail services would continue here.

Various numbers were given concerning how many postal employees would be affected. It appears to be about 200 of the approximately 500 who work in the Delaware facility. Some would be offered positions at Bellmawr or in various post offices. Tom Kelly, acting district manager for the Postal Service, said that, since mail volume reached its peak in 2006, the service has been able to use retirements and normal attrition to eliminate jobs. He did not say whether he thought that would continue.

 Consolidation, combined with extending delivery time from overnight to two-to-three days, would result in more efficiency. Mail would be processed for 22 hours a day instead of the present 12, eliminating machine downtime and workers frequently "waiting around for mail to arrive," he explained.

Kelly, who spoke before the lawmakers, did not specifically respond to their complaint, but did say that "no final decisions  have been made" regarding specific facilities here and elsewhere. The study involved 252 of the 487 processing units now operating. It is being reviewed by top Postal Service officials, he said. Public comments will be accepted until Feb. 3 with decisions forthcoming, probably later in the month.

State development director Alan Levin said the Delaware mail-processing unit is one of the best in the nation and is one of the key assets for attracting new businesses to the state. It had a lot to do with decisions by credit card firms to locate here, he said. "If you take away the processing center at Hares Corner, we will be handicapped."

Preserving existing jobs is also a priority, he and several speakers at the meeting said. 'There is not a more committed workforce in the Postal Service," Levin said.

While all three Delaware lawmakers acknowledged that the Postal Service continues to lose ground to electronic media and competing private package-delivery companies and indicated that they would support moves to cut costs and improved productivity, they made it clear that they staunchly oppose closing the Delaware mail-processing unit and will fight to keep it open.

Carper has some acknowledged leverage in that regard because he chairs the Senate subcommittee which oversees the Postal Service. He has been actively involved in postal matters since 2002.

He suggested that instead of moving the Delaware processing operation to New Jersey, the one in Easton, Md., be moved here instead of to Baltimore, as is being proposed. Mail originating in Cecil County, Md., and in Delaware and Chester Counties, Pa., could also be redirected to here.

He compared the Postal Service plan to the Department of Defense's 'base realignment and closure' plan six years ago to relocate the Delaware Air National Guard's C-130s. That proposal was scrapped after public officials here pointed out flaws in the criteria and reasoning on which it was based. Carper said there well could be similar errors in the Postal Service's reasoning. "We just don't know. ... We have to get all the information and have time to study it."

In any event, he added, "it's not enough to just say 'no'. ... We can't just say, 'Close other places but don't touch us'."

At that point, he turned what started out as an informational meeting into a full-fledged anti-closure rally. As the rhetoric built up, attenders responded with frequent applause and standing ovations.

Paraphrasing British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's World War Two call to "fight them on the beaches ..." Carper pledged to "take it to the highest level" and "fight for what the hell is the right thing to do."

Coons and Carney said they are committed to join in the fight. Governor Jack Markell, the General Assembly and New Castle County Council, among others, are on record as opposing the Postal Service move.

Noting that Kelly had commented on the size of the crowd that turned out for the meeting, Levin said he told the postal official, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

2012. All rights reserved.