The postal service has announced beginning in January 2015 it will resume closing and merging dozens of U.S. facilities, including Dayton’s, potentially impacting hundreds of local workers.
Operations at the Dayton Processing and Distribution Center at 1111 E. Fifth St. were scheduled to move to Columbus in the summer of 2013, but the postal service put that plan on hold early last year.
The closure of the local facility and three others statewide is necessary because the agency is bleeding money and has more capacity than it needs to handle declining mail volumes, postal officials said.
“This is just the continuation of that plan that was announced,” said David Van Allen, an Ohio spokesman for the postal service.
But local postal workers said they were surprised and disappointed by the announcement, because they had hoped the plant had been spared the chopping block. Workers said the consolidation would uproot local employees and inevitably cause mail delivery delays for local residents.
“We thought we were off the list for good, but then we got thrown back on the list, and it just came out of nowhere,” said Conswela Patton, president of the National Mail Handlers Union Local 304, which represents about 68 employees at the Dayton facility.
The postal service says it is in deep financial trouble. In May, the agency announced it lost $1.9 billion in the second quarter of fiscal year 2014, which marked the 20th quarter of losses out of the previous 22.
Citing the need to slash expenses, the postal service consolidated 141 U.S. mail facilities in 2012 and 2013, a move that saves $865 million annually, officials said.
The agency plans to consolidate as many as 82 additional processing centers beginning in January 2015, which combined is projected to save more than $750 million annually. Four Ohio facilities are targeted for this round of consolidation.
Under the plan, Dayton’s operations will move to Columbus, and Akron’s and Youngstown’s operations will migrate to Cleveland. Toledo’s operations will be split between Columbus and Detroit. Dayton’s post office at the E. Fifth location will remain open.
Transferring Dayton’s operations to the state capital would save the postal service almost $8 million annually, according to a 2011 study by the agency. The Dayton facility previously processed about 1.8 billion pieces of mail each year, the study said.
Since February 2013, mail originating out of Dayton has been shipped to the Columbus facility to be processed, which is why letters mailed in the city now have a Columbus postmark.
Mail with Dayton-area destinations are shipped to the local processing center to be sorted for delivery, said Van Allen. But that will cease with the facility’s closure.
The local plant in recent years employed more than 400 workers.
Some employees have left for other jobs, including a number of mail clerks who accepted positions at a facility in South Carolina, union officials said. Today, about 300 people are employed at the processing facility.
The postal service says no local workers will lose their jobs as a result of the consolidation.
But employees who are moved to Columbus will face tough decisions, because they will have a very long and inconvenient commute, Patton said. Workers are nervous, she said, and they hold out hope that the postal service will cancel this consolidation.
“There is really nothing good about this,” Patton said. “The only good thing about it is if we do get consolidated, we still have jobs, and there are no layoffs.”
Patton said the postal service has provided few details about its plans and what they will mean for local mail handlers. But she said the elimination of the Dayton plant would undoubtedly cause delivery delays.
“There would be a very big impact,” she said.
Postal officials, however, contend service delays related to the consolidation will be minimal.
On average, first-class mail will take about 2.25 days to reach its destination, up from 2.14 days prior to the consolidation, officials said.
The postponement of some consolidations occurred because the postal service wanted to make sure the process goes smoothly, Van Allen said.
He said the agency is coping with major financial losses, stemming from the rapid decline of first-class mail volumes.
“We have more capacity than we need,” Van Allen said. “First-class mail … that’s declined over 50 percent since 2006.”
First-class mail volumes decreased by 4 percent between the second quarters of 2013 and 2014, the agency said.
Comprehensive legislative reform is needed in order for the agency to make its $5.7 billion retiree health benefit prefunding payment to the U.S. Treasury by the end of September, postal officials said.