Mankato mail facility to close

Published 9:48 am Friday, February 24, 2012

Mark Fischenich, Mankato Free Press

MANKATO — The U.S. Postal Service mail processing facility in Mankato will be all-but-shuttered under a dramatic enlargement of the struggling agency’s consolidation efforts.

A plan presented at a public hearing in Mankato in August would have shifted only about 14 percent of the mail being processed at the facility on Summit Avenue to a facility in Minneapolis. Under the plan, the number of workers at the Mankato facility would have fallen from 102 to 84.

Thursday’s announcement greatly expanded the retrenchment, eliminating not just outgoing mail processing — the mail being sent from postal customers throughout southwestern Minnesota — including Albert Lea — to places elsewhere in the state or nation — but also the processing of mail arriving from processing centers around the country for delivery to customers in the region.

Postal Service officials in August also pledged to concerned local shippers that service would be completely unaffected for the vast majority of customers. Delivery times would decline only for mail going to Sioux City, Iowa, or Sioux Falls, S.D., they told shippers.

The impact will be larger under the new plan — to the extent that it can’t move forward unless postal officials authorize and nationwide lowering of delivery standards, said Postal Service Spokesman Pete Nowacki.

“It doesn’t occur unless we also change the delivery standard on first-class mail,” Nowacki said. “Letters that now get delivered overnight will take two days.”

Nowacki couldn’t provide specifics on local job losses. The net job reduction will be 58, but that includes an unannounced number of new positions created in Minneapolis.

He said some of the 102 Mankato jobs might continue to exist locally, such as mail hauling work.

But the lost jobs, whether closer to 100 or 60, will be difficult for local economic development officials to replace in terms of pay and benefits. A mail processing clerk at the top of the wage scale earns about $53,000 a year, and overtime opportunities can drive wages higher.

No specific date for the consolidation has been set.

At the request of members of Congress, the Postal Service announced a six-month moratorium starting Dec. 15 on any closings of processing centers or post offices. That means nothing can happen until May 15.

After an elaborate public notification and comment process last year, Thursday’s announcement of a much more extensive cutback comes with no detailed information and no opportunity for public input.

“There was not another public contact process,” Nowacki said.

The report unveiled at the August meeting and the comments of USPS officials at the meeting downplayed concerns that the facility would be shuttered entirely.

“ … There will continue to be quite a bit of processing at that facility at this time,” Postal Service official Arby Humphrey told the Mankato audience in August.

Fewer than 200,000 of the approximately 1.4 million pieces of mail processed at the facility each day will be shifted to the Minneapolis facility, another Postal Service official said then. And the vast majority of jobs would continue to exist.

Shippers who send large quantities of mail asked several questions and were assured they would notice no difference in the service they receive with the exception of mail going to Sioux City, Iowa, or Sioux Falls, S.D.

Even with the more severe job losses, the Postal Service still intends to offer all affected workers the chance to transfer to other vacant positions.

Four other Minnesota cities are affected by the processing facility consolidation as well, with the work going to facilities in Eagan or Minneapolis. The statewide job loss from the move will be 232 jobs — including 58 attributed to the closing of the Mankato facility, 58 in Duluth, 69 in St. Cloud, 41 in Rochester and six in Bemidji.

But each of the figures are reduced by the number of new jobs created at the Minneapolis and Eagan facilities, so the impact on outstate Minnesota will be substantially larger than 230.

The Postal Service — beset by large declines in first-class mail due to electronic communication and struggling with strict congressional requirements on pre-paying employee retirement benefits — has been losing billions of dollars a year in recent years. The Postal Service, which doesn’t receive tax dollars to cover operating costs, is also looking at closing nearly 4,000 post offices including North Mankato’s.