SCARBOROUGH — A mail distribution center here will be last remaining postal hub in the state after it absorbs the workload, and many of the workers, now at a facility in Hampden.
The consolidation plan was announced Feb. 23 by the U.S. Postal Service, which estimates it will save $7.5 million annually by combining the two mail processing centers.
The work at Hampden’s Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Center could be sent to Scarborough by May 15.
“Consolidating operations is necessary if the Postal Service is to remain viable to provide mail service to the nation,” Megan Brennan, chief operating officer of the Postal Service, in a press release.
A union representing postal employees at Scarborough’s Southern Maine P&DC said it fears the consolidation effort will diminish the delivery standards for mail in Maine.
Tim Doughty, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 458, said the consolidation will mean the end of overnight delivery in the state, and that new standards will allow two to three days for delivery of first-class mail.
The diminished service, he said, will make make the USPS a less viable agency.
“The company that focuses on cutting costs instead of increasing revenue is doomed to fail,” Doughty said Wednesday. “The USPS is going right down that line. They’ll reduce the delivery standards and initiate a death spiral for us all.”
There are 183 employees at the Hampden facility, and 170 of those jobs will be affected by the consolidation, USPS spokesman Tom Rizzo said. About 120 eastern Maine employees will likely be offered transfers to Scarborough, he said.
Rizzo said the Post Office would not lay off any workers in Eastern Maine, but that he suspected those eligible for retirment might pursue that option rather than move to southern Maine.
The Southern Maine P&DC employs 529 people. It gained 39 workers last November when it took half the workload previously handled in Portsmouth, N.H.
The consolidation effort is part of a plan by the Postal Service to address a growing budget gap.
According to Postal Service figures, 98 billion pieces of first-class mail were sent via USPS in 2006. Volume dropped to 78 billion in 2010, and it is expected to shrink to 39 billion by the end of this decade.
Rizzo said the USPS is predicting a $14 billion budget gap this year. That’s partly due to a 2006 law championed by former President George W. Bush that requires the Postal Service to pre-fund 75 years worth of retiree health benefits, at a cost of $5.5 billion per year.
The USPS and the union oppose that obligation, which essentially requires the service to squirrel away money for employees who haven’t been born. No other federal agency is required to do so.
Doughty, the union president, said the obligation to pre-fund retiree health benefits is the root cause of the agency’s money woes. He said he hopes Congress will repeal the 2006 law before May 15, when a moratorium on consolidation will be lifted, allowing the Postal Service to close Eastern Maine’s facility.
He also said that while he’s happy to take the additional work and employees in Scarborough – and the additional union members for his local – he’d rather see both plants stay open.
“We don’t wish to see our brothers and sisters and fellow union members in Eastern Maine displaced 140 miles,” Doughty said.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, issued a statement opposing the plan, saying the USPS should instead seek to raise revenue by leasing unused space at the Eastern Maine P&DC.
“The large size of our state makes it impossible for the Postal Service to serve the entire state efficiently with just one plant in Scarborough,” Collins said.
“If mail to and from the northern half of Maine has to travel all the way to the Scarborough plant – a more-than-600-mile round trip from some Northern Maine communities – longer delivery times are inevitable.”
Rizzo said he doesn’t think the change will be a major inconvenience.
“What it really means is that if you mail a birthday card to grandma, you need to mail it one day earlier,” he said. “We don’t think that’s going to cause a tremendous amount of people to change their mailing habits.”