Post offices consolidate operations, deliveries
PORTLAND — A sharp drop in the volume of mail has forced the U.S. Postal Service to make changes to staffing, facilities and operations at several area post offices.
According to a Postal Regulatory Commission filing this week, the Postal Service nationally experienced a $751 million net loss for the month of January, nearly double the total $384 million loss reported in the previous quarter. This year's volume is projected to decrease by as much as 12 billion to 15 billion pieces of mail.
Because Maine's figures reflect the national trend, the Postal Service has instituted cost-savings measures at post offices in Portland, Freeport and Brunswick, Tom Rizzo, spokesman for the Maine district of the U.S. Postal Service, said.
"Our customers may notice a change in the time of day their mail is delivered, or they may have their mail delivered by a different letter carrier," Rizzo said.
Because the Postal Service is a government agency, may people think it is funded by tax dollars, Rizzo said. But he stressed that no tax dollars are used; it is self-supporting through stamps and postage sales and must make these changes in operations to survive the country's most significant decline in the volume of mail since the Great Depression.
During the past year, the Postal Service has had about 40 Maine employees opt for early retirement, a voluntary program initiated to reduce the workforce without imposing mandatory layoffs, Rizzo said. In addition, it has frozen executives' salaries and reduced staffing by 15 percent at its headquarters and by 19 percent at its regional offices.
In what Rizzo called an "unprecedented agreement" with the National Association of Letter Carriers, the Postal Service will be examining and adjusting delivery routes to improve efficiency. In some cases, routes will be consolidated, which may mean an increase in the number of delivery sites for letter carriers. Though an extra carrier will work in the office on busy days, the process will cut down on overtime and make delivery more consistent, Rizzo said.
On the operations side, the service has consolidated duplicate mail operations at facilities like the new Postal Distribution Center in Scarborough, to speed the processing time.
"We've continued to automate processing and delivery options to become more efficient, employing more extensive use of barcodes and automated technology," Rizzo said.
The Postal Service has also put a moratorium on the construction of new postal facilities.
The plan nationally is to cut $5.9 billion in costs through fiscal year 2010 in an attempt to counteract a loss this year that will likely exceed last year's losses of $2.8 billion.
Reducing the number of delivery days per week has been discussed, but it's "not an issue at this point," Rizzo said. For now, the normal six-day per week delivery will continue, though he said looking at reducing delivery days during slower periods, such as summertime, could eventually be considered. Another cost-savings measure that the postmaster general has requested from Congress would be the ability to adjust a portion of the $7 billion a year for retiree health benefits, which are currently pre-funded.