By DOUG WILSON
Herald-Whig Senior Writer
Seven Postal Service workers finished their final shifts at the Quincy Mail Processing and Distribution Center last week and have been reclassified as letter carriers.
Quincy area mail, originating in the 623 ZIP code area, started going to Springfield, Ill., for processing on Saturday. The Quincy mail sorting center will continue to handle mail for the 634 and 635 ZIP code areas of Northeast Missouri until February, when that work will be taken over by a processing center in Columbia, Mo.
Another 51 workers will need to transfer elsewhere or take retirement at that time as the Quincy processing facility is closed.
Closing the Quincy site is being touted by the U.S. Postal Service as a move to cut costs and improve efficiency. Postal workers dispute those claims and an official Postal Service report lists the elimination of jobs in Quincy as a savings, even though local workers displaced by the change will be offered jobs within a 50-mile radius and will continue to receive salaries at their current level.
"They say closing this processing center will create $1.3 million in annual savings. There's no possible way," said Vaughn Harshman, president of the American Postal Workers Local 77.
In the 88-page report on the Quincy facility's phase-out, David Williams, vice president of network operations, said 51 sorters and two manager positions will be eliminated in Quincy when the processing center closes. Springfield and Columbia each will need 22 more sorters, resulting in 44 jobs added overall.
Williams' report indicates that will there will be 44 sorters doing the work previously done by 51 sorters -- seven fewer than when Quincy processed mail for 623, 634 and 635 ZIP code areas. But while Quincy will lose two management staff members, Springfield will add three managers and Columbia will add seven managers -- a gain of eight managers from last week's configuration. The report indicates those management jobs are the result of filling positions that are now vacant.
Williams estimates the move to Columbia will cost $240,000 more in the first year of the move from Quincy. After that, the Columbia move is supposed to save $404,000 per year.
The move to Springfield is supposed to save $617,000 in the first year and $906,000 per year after that, according to the report.
Jim O'Connell, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 239 in Springfield, told The State Journal-Register he is confident the Springfield sorting station can handle the average of 472,000 pieces of mail that will be shipped there from Quincy. No new machinery had been shifted to Springfield as of last week.
Alan Harvey, president of the Quincy branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said five of the seven postal clerks whose jobs were eliminated at the sorting facility last week will be trained to handle carrier routes in Quincy.
"They've held these five routes in Quincy open for several years now. They've been covered by substitute carriers," Harvey said.
"When we heard that they're going to be coming over we thought ‘it's going to work great.' We've been working a lot of overtime because we were five bodies short. We thought the overtime would diminish. Come to find out, we'll lose six carriers who have been called transitional employees ... and we'll still be facing overtime because we'll keep on being five bodies short."
In fact, the cost for carriers will rise. The Level 6 clerks who have done mail processing earn $51,000 a year, plus benefits. Their base salaries are about $24.52 per hour. They will be replacing temporary employees who receive no more than $20 per hour and no benefits.
Harvey expects that overtime costs also will rise as older workers do more physically demanding jobs.
"The (transitional employees) are mostly in their early 20s to early 30s. From what I understand, the clerks who are coming over are in their late 30s to early 40s," Harvey said.
That 10- to 20-year age difference could result in a higher number of sick days and the need for substitutes, said Harvey, who is a letter carrier.
"I've been doing this for 20 years. I see every year my body telling me I can't go what I did last year. The body wears down and can only do so much. Having a younger body helps," he said.
Postal Service officials who are overseeing the consolidation or closing of 228 postal processing centers have counted on mass retirements to help save money.
"We have a few people who will retire, but it won't be that many," Harshman said.
Sally Davidow, a spokesperson for the American Postal Workers Union, said many costs of moving operations to new sites and changing operations are not accounted for in official reports.
"We're under the impression that the savings projections are greatly exaggerated," Davidow said.
Retirement forecasts also may be greatly overestimated, because workers who are not yet able to receive Social Security need their jobs.
Under the retirement program established in 1984, civil servants contribute to Social Security and are in a retirement program based on years of service and the highest three years of base pay.
The Level 6 clerks working at the Quincy facility have a base salary of $51,000. If a 55-year-old clerk has a three-year high average salary of $51,000 and has worked 33 years the annual retirement payment would be nearly $17,000. ($51,000 x 0.33 = $16,830) Those who cannot yet receive Social Security are not likely to opt for retirement on about $1,400 per month unless they have other employment.
Participants in an older retirement system could earn up to 80 percent of their highest three-year salary average if they worked at least 42 years. If those workers also have a $51,000 base salary, they would receive $40,800 per year.
Davidow said reports that the Postal Service is losing money due to a decline in mail volume are misguided.
"The primary reason for the funding problems go back to the (2006) vote in Congress that the Postal Service has to prefund (retiree) benefits for the next 75 years and do it in a 10-year period ... at a cost of $5.5 billion a year. That's a payment no other agency in government has to make," Davidow said.
"Congress created this problem. Congress should solve this problem."
Davidow said the drastic cuts such as those in Quincy are not necessary. She believes moving mail sorting to Springfield and Columbia may make next-day delivery difficult. That will give postal patrons less incentive to use the Postal Service.
"When you drive away customers, it's not going to help" the agency's bottom line, she said.