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Friday, July 29, 2011

Mail Employees Go Postal on Closure of Bronx Plant

Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the latest issue of the Norwood News, on the streets and online now.

By Alex Kratz

James Perez, a Kingsbridge Heights resident and 24-year veteran of the United States Postal Service, is having a hard time imagining working outside of the Bronx. But he might not have a choice in the matter.

By the end of the fall, his position and at least 231 others at the Bronx mail processing plant will be eliminated as the USPS consolidates all of the Bronx’s mail processing and distribution into the Manhattan plant. Perez and his co-workers may end up in Manhattan, but they could be transplanted to any postal location within 50 miles of the five boroughs.

The USPS, citing budget concerns due to a “dramatic” drop in mail volume, said this is a done deal, but the postal workers union is not giving up without a fight.

They organized a rally to protest the elimination of the Bronx plant for Wednesday afternoon, July 27. It will start at the recently-closed Oak Point station on E. 149th Street and end at the Bronx General Post Office (where the processing plant is located) at E. 149th Street and the Grand Concourse. There, at 11:30 a.m., along with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., the union will list the reasons why eliminating the borough’s processing center is a bad move and should be reconsidered.

“There is nothing good in it for anyone,” said Chuck Zlatkin, the legislative and political director for the New York Area United Postal Workers Union.

In addition to all of the displaced workers, Zlatkin said mail delivery to the borough will be delayed, delivery trucks from Manhattan will mean more pollution and traffic for the Bronx and local businesses around the processing plant on E. 149th Street will suffer from the loss of built-in customers.

“I understand our employees’ concern over this move,” said New York District Manager
William J. Schnaars in a statement, “but the consolidation makes sense given the fiscal realities. The [Manhattan plant] has the capacity to handle the additional workload and we can realize significant savings by shifting operations there.”

The USPS says the move will result in $8.8 million in annual savings and that delivery will not be affected.

Zlatkin and others say there is no way mail delivery will not affected because the Manhattan plant is nine miles away from the Bronx plant and traffic will invariably affect delivery.

The consolidation comes on the heels of the USPS’s decision earlier this year to close two Bronx post offices -- Oak Point and Crotona. The agency also decided to close the Van Nest office, but community outrage has suspended that move for the time being.

Zlatkin said the USPS fiscal crisis cited as rationale for these closures and consolidations is “manufactured.” For years, he said, the USPS overpaid, to the tune of $50 million to $75 million, into federal and civil service retirement funds. That, plus a new policy that forces the USPS to pre-fund retirement, is largely responsible for the budget gap, Zlatkin says.

Although the USPS is overseen by the federal government, Zlatkin says it’s important to note the agency pays for itself without using tax dollars.

In the past, Zlatkin said, Bronx Congressman Jose Serrano was able to stop the USPS from closing the borough’s processing plant. But with Republicans in control of the House, Serrano’s influence has waned.

Earlier this spring, Serrano sent a letter to Patrick Donahue, the Post Master General, saying the Bronx was “being asked to bear a disproportionate burden of your intended cost-cutting.”

The Bronx plant is the only outer-borough plant being phased out, although a spokesperson for the USPS said the plant in Staten Island was being reviewed and others may be consolidated in the future.

1 comment:

  1. It's amazing that we're forced to fight to keep open some of the worst service offices imaginable. I'm not saying it's wrong to insist that they stay open, but anyone who has ever walked into a bronx post office saw long lines beyond comprehension, filthy conditions, often unfriendly employees, and clumsy, inefficient systems. None of those encouraged their customers to come back and with alternatives available, whenever possible, they chose not to.

    You can't effectively run any service organization like that and so, regardless of what the economic structure and challenges are, operations like that can never be successful in this economic climate.... and predictably the USPS is not - despite the incredible 90+% efficiency of their mail delivery, which is a remarkable achievement. But rather than build on that incredible infrastructure, in plain language, they've blown it and unfortunately, we're all going to have to pay with loss of services.

    By not being customer-friendly nor efficient at their locations and not keeping up with competitive technology over a period of generations, they were bound to be hemorrhaging money eventually. Those factors, combined with a top-down bureaucratic mentalilty, have brought us to this point.


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