August 22, 2019

Maine postal workers brace for cutbacks

Postal employees in Maine are bracing themselves for change – and possible jobs cuts – as part of a nationwide effort to make for a slimmer U.S. Postal Service.

The President’s Commission on the United States Postal Service issued a report last summer recommending a “smaller and stronger” postal network with fewer employees. It also suggested closing a number of post offices nationwide.

In Maine, that has set off alarms that any changes could result in jobs lost and the end of the post office in some small communities.

David Greenlaw, president of the Maine chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, said most Mainers don’t realize that the postal service is the seventh-largest employer in the state, with more than 4,000 jobs.

Mail carriers on average make $37,790 a year, and mail clerks make $38,530, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average Maine job pays $31,600 a year.

Greenlaw said the commission’s report could have repercussions for the state in terms of jobs and how the mail is delivered.

“If you went out and surveyed 10 people, I would be amazed if two out of the 10 know about the presidential report, yet all 10 could be drastically impacted,” Greenlaw said.

The commission’s report says that without change, the Postal Service can either dramatically cut back service, seek unprecedented rate increases or fall further into debt, which would require a significant taxpayer bailout.

The report says the public interest is best served by rooting out “inefficiencies and other unnecessary costs” throughout the agency.

Change is already taking place in Maine. Of the state’s 435 post offices, more than 260 have scaled back hours since August.

Any future wholesale changes aren’t likely until Congress acts on the commission’s report. As chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is likely to support a bill on postal reform next year.

U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Christine Dugas said that if and when the Postal Service starts closing offices, she doesn’t believe remote or money-losing ones would be targeted for closure.

A more likely scenario, she said, is looking at areas with clusters of offices.

Take Boothbay, for instance, where there’s a post office near a town square and another down the road in Boothbay Harbor. There’s another post office a mile farther, and another two miles away. Inside a 10-mile radius, there are three more.

All seven of those offices have clerks, mail carriers or postmasters. One of the thickest postal clusters in the state, it’s a local convenience that could catch the eye of Congress.

Dugas said it is important to protect universal service so everyone in the country gets the same service for the same price. But, she added, that doesn’t mean that as many post offices are needed as now exist.

But just that suggestion is bound to bother some people. Post offices are often the hearts of a downtown, the only place where all sorts of community residents rub elbows.

Dugas has heard many reasons against shuttering offices, from “that’s where we go to exchange recipes” to “that’s the only scale in town, we use it to weigh babies.”

But the “argument isn’t about the efficient movement of the mail, the arguments are personal,” Dugas said.

Greenlaw said the union supports saving money by having the Postal Service contract out less work and limit bulk-mail discounts that large companies get. He said the union is already fighting the change in office hours through the grievance process.

Greenlaw agreed that some post offices are close together, but added, “What about that elderly person who can’t get to that office five to seven miles down the road?

“They’re a service organization,” he said. “What they’re trying to do is operate more and more like a for-profit.”

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