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Postal processing center to close down

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

Paducah's Postal Service processing center again faces closure.

The U.S. Postal Service released a list Monday of 80 processing sites nationwide to be closed beginning in January, and two additional sites that are tentatively considered for closure. Processing at the listed locations, which includes Paducah, Campton and Lexington in Kentucky, will be consolidated with other centers.

Gerl McKinney, vice president of Paducah's American Postal Workers Union Local 2500, said the closure could cost 35 to 40 jobs at the Paducah location.

The closures comes after a 2011 announcement by the Postal Service that about 250 mail processing sites across the country would be studied for possible consolidation as the Postal Service tries to stem staggering losses.

Paducah's processing center, located within the same building of the downtown post office, received notice in 2012 that its processing center would close and consolidate with the Evansville, Ind., center, possibly by the end of that year. Closure plans were delayed, however, because of a request by federal legislators for time to propose a system overhaul.

The Postal Service proceeded with closures, and Paducah's local union was later told the site was slated for a Feb. 8, 2014, closure.

McKinney said, however, the Postal Service didn't take any steps to prepare the center for the expected February closure date. Later that month, he said, he had heard the Postal Service had cancelled Paducah's closing.

"But we have never received official notification that we were off the closing list so to speak ... the Postal Service is kind of playing fast and loose with the rules right now," he said.

McKinney said Paducah's center has about 50 career staff members and 15 non-career staffers. That does not include carriers or employees on the customer service side of the location.

The information sent to union leaders Monday indicates the Postal Service is moving forward with the closures based on the information it gathered in 2011. McKinney said the information on mailing and employee numbers needs to be updated, but the Postal Service will likely not respond to a push by unions to go through the feasibility study process again.

"We can try," he said. "This is the federal government here ... we've got some arguments we can use, but it's probably not going to help."

Paducah's processing center consistently scores higher in efficiency than Louisville's center does, and Paducah is probably within the top third of processing centers in Kentucky although it uses older equipment, McKinney said. That's one reason he suspects the center's February closure was delayed.

The delay may also stem from inefficiencies at the Evansville location, he added. "Evansville has always had a problem with handling the mail," he said.

Although the mail processing will be consolidated, McKinney said when regional leaders met before earlier closure announcements, he was told the Evansville location would not be taking on any of Paducah's employees.

If consolidation moves forward, McKinney said, a letter mailed from Paducah to Murray will go to Evansville before being sent to Murray.

He said Paducah will likely keep its dock transfer station, which means there will probably be about five employees working on the dock to transfer mail to the Evansville center.

In addition to job losses, McKinney also is concerned about how the consolidation will affect residents. McKinney, who worked for the Postal Service for 25 years, now runs a small business and said it takes eight days to receive a check from one of his biggest customers in Cape Girardeau, Mo. In 2011, when the Postal Service began studying the possibility of consolidations, it held public hearings in the towns where processing centers were examined for closure. In Paducah, McKinney said, local residents voiced their comments at a Tilghman High School meeting, but it did not sway the Postal Service. McKinney said business leaders should voice their concerns to Postal Service officials.

"They need to make it known that it's affecting their business," he said.

When the 2011 study was completed, the service said it would eliminate 35 clerk jobs at the Paducah processing center. McKinney said the number of clerks has declined, but the Postal Service is still using the same numbers, which he said could "cut them even thinner," than planned in 2011. He said mail volume has also changed, as first class mail is down and third class mail is up.

The greatest challenge in receiving closure notice is being unaware of how each employee will be affected.

"We can't actually tell our members who is going to lose their jobs," he said.

"Once again, the Postal Service is putting the employees of the Paducah office in an unfortunate position in not being able to determine what their future is going to be, " McKinney added. "Everything is up in the air until they come up with more information ... we've already been under the gun here for over two years. It keeps things unsettled in the Paducah office and certainly doesn't help the work climate."

Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692.

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