Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Postal service won't close rural post offices but will cut staff and operating hours

The U.S. Postal Service says it will keep open the rural post offices it proposed closing earlier this year as part of a money-saving effort, The Associated Press reports. Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe cited community opposition as the reason for shelving the plan and said the USPS would "whittle down" full-time staff, but maintain part-time post offices in rural places with access to retail and post office boxes. No post offices would be closed under the new plan, but more than 13,000 rural mail facilities could be forced to reduce operation hours.

USPS said it intends to get community input and seek regulatory approval of the plan, which could take several months. The plan would take two years to fully complete and would save an estimated half-billion dollars annually, AP reports. Communities could chose to keep their post offices at reduced hours, or close an office in one area, but keep one nearby open full-time. Communities could also opt for alternatives, including "village post offices," in which postal services are housed in other businesses, such as libraries or grocery stores.

The agency said the new plan will save more money than closing offices because it will replace full-time postmasters without union contracts with part-time workers. It said 80 percent of its costs in rural areas are labor-related. The plan would offer buyouts to the country's 21,000 postmasters. Save the Post Office's Steve Hutkins says the part-time postmasters will be paid "far less" than full-time, and that this latest move by USPS could allow for closings and consolidations in the future. He also says the new plan will reduce window hours at offices to anywhere between six to two hours a day. The USPS web page about the plan is here.

“We’ve listened to our customers in rural America and we’ve heard them loud and clear -- they want to keep their post office open,” Donahoe said. USPS Chief Operating Officer Megan Brennan said very few offices will actually have to close. The agency has been pressing Congress to help the struggling service, which is currently billions of dollars in debt. But rural opposition to closing post offices was the "principal barrier to the cost-cutting effort," AP reports. (Read more)

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