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USPS study gets fiery crowd reaction

By KBell
Dec. 2, 2010 at 6:02 a.m.

Anna Yaws operates a sorting machine at the Moody Station Postal Center. The machine is capable of sorting mail according to the various routes, then dropped into slots, seen in the background, in order of delivery. It can process nearly 40,000 pieces of mail an hour versus about 1,000 by hand.

Community members wasted no time firing questions to U.S. Postal Service representatives regarding a study that proposes moving mail processing operations to Corpus Christi.

The study, started by the Postal Service's Area Mail Processing division in September, suggests consolidating final inbound mail sorting procedures for all zip codes beginning with 779 in Corpus Christi.

"The whole Postal Service has anticipated the increasing use of online services. Coupled with the economy, we'll have to reallocate resources," said Sam Bolen, Postal Service public information officer for the Rio Grande District. "We've been withholding positions in anticipation for this."

Bolen said Victoria's processing center currently employs 12 people. Those jobs could be affected by the consolidation, but employees will be reassigned in accordance with collective bargaining agreements, he said.

The study also predicts local consumers will not experience any changes with the mail system.

Collection times, retail services and delivery times will be unaffected, according to the study.

However, a few audience members expressed concern over current outgoing mail, processed in Corpus Christi, taking weeks to reach its destination.

Outbound mail processing was moved to Corpus Christi in 1992, which means Victoria-to-Victoria mail is shipped there to be sorted, then back to Victoria to be disseminated.

One postal worker, David Smarr, said he saw the effects of that 1992 consolidation.

"They said there was going to be no impact, and now it takes three days for mail to go from Victoria to Victoria," Smarr said. "If that's 'no impact,' I am truly concerned about what they're saying about this plan."

Tom Billington, manager of post office operations for the Alamo area, fielded questions from the audience.

He provided few concrete answers, though, saying the study is in its preliminary stages.

For example, the study suggests the Postal Service could save $1.5 million annually with the consolidation.

When Smarr asked where that number came from, Billington was unable to provide figures but said it came from "preliminary data."

Smarr said he's unsure where savings will come from if jobs are not supposed to be cut.

"It's just so frustrating," Smarr said, shaking his head. "Your heart just falls right out."

Bolen said the purpose of the meeting was to take public concerns into consideration throughout the duration of the study.

Of the 51 people in attendance, Bolen wrote down 22 questions, which he will compile into a report.

He also plans on having separate meetings with employees and commercial suppliers, who would be more affected by the consolidation.

Mayor Will Armstrong spoke at the podium after Billington's presentation. He mentioned the University of Houston-Victoria becoming a four-year college and Caterpillar's move to the area among the reasons the Postal Service should consider sticking with Victoria.

"I know it's very important to save money, but also, human capital is important," Armstrong said. "I would like to save these jobs for Victoria and ask you to study again in a couple years when this growth spurt takes place."

The study is ongoing. Billington said it's unclear when a final decision will be made, but he plans on having the employee and commercial supplier meetings after the first of the year.



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