Change in mail delivery prompts concern from farmers, lawmakers, unions

Posted: Feb. 7, 2013 10:41 am Updated: Feb. 21, 2013 11:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Mike Cadwell spent time Wednesday listening to customers talk about the plan by the struggling U.S. Postal Service to eliminate Saturday mail service in August as a way to reduce costs.

"Mostly it's just a concern over the financial aspect of the Postal Service," said Cadwell, owner of Mike's Barber Shop in downtown Quincy.

The Postal Service, which lost $15.9 billion in the last fiscal year, is expected to save $2 billion annually by delivering letters and magazines only five days per week. The delivery of packages of all sizes will continue on Saturdays.

"Personally. I don't mind it if it helps," said Cadwell, who admits he pays his bills online, except for his home and work phone bills.

Wednesday's announcement came days after the Postal Service shut down the Quincy mail processing facility near 42nd and Wismann Lane. Quincy area mail from the 623 ZIP code area was shifted to Springfield, Ill., last August. Starting this week, mail for the 635 ZIP codes will be shipped to Columbia, Mo., for processing, and mail from the 634 ZIP code will be processed in St. Louis.

"Our financial condition is urgent," declared Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe.

Congress has voted in the past to bar the idea of eliminating Saturday delivery, and Donahoe's announcement immediately drew protests from some lawmakers. The plan also brought vigorous objections from farmers, the letter carriers' union and others.

Dixie McGoldrick, bulk mail manager for Priority One Printing and Mailing in Quincy, said customers will have to adjust.

"People who normally mail things out on Friday might need to start thinking about getting them out before Friday if they want them to be in a household by Saturday," she said.

Mike Nobis, owner of JK Creative Printers and Mailing, said he thinks it was a good decision. "Overall I don't think it is going to have that great of an impact on businesses and individuals," he said.

The plan accentuates one of the agency's strong points: Package delivery has increased by 14 percent since 2010, officials say, while the delivery of letters and other mail has plummeted.

Email has decreased the mailing of paper letters, but online purchases have increased package shipping, forcing the Postal Service to adjust to new habits.

But change is not the biggest factor in the agency's predicament -- Congress is. Most of the service's red ink comes from a 2006 law forcing it to pay $11 billion a year into future retiree health benefits, something no other agency does. Without that and related labor expenses, the mail agency sustained an operating loss of $2.4 billion last year, lower than the year before.

Congress also has stymied the service's efforts to close some post offices in small towns. An independent agency, the service gets no tax dollars for its day-to-day operations but is subject to congressional control.

For Netflix customers who receive movies through the mail, DVDs that used to arrive on Saturday now will come on Monday.

However, analysts believe few customers are likely to mind. Most Netflix subscribers no longer get DVDs anyway, and those who do often let their discs sit on shelves for days or weeks, so the extra waiting time won't hurt that much.

The proposed change is based on what appears to be a legal loophole -- and that may be a gamble. Congress has long included a ban on five-day-only delivery in its spending bills, but because the federal government is now operating under a temporary spending measure rather than an appropriations bill, Donahoe says it's the agency's interpretation that it can make the change itself.

"This is not like a ‘gotcha' or anything like that," he said. The agency essentially wants Congress to keep the ban out of any new spending bill after the temporary measure expires March 27. Congress could still block the move.

The president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Fredric Rolando, said the cutback is "a disastrous idea that would have a profoundly negative effect on the Postal Service and on millions of customers," particularly businesses, rural communities, the elderly, the disabled and others who depend on Saturday delivery for commerce and communication.

The National Farmers Union said "impacts on rural America will be particularly harmful."

Despite that opposition, the Postal Service clearly thinks it has a majority of the American public on its side. The service's market research indicates that nearly 7 in 10 people support the switch as a way to reduce costs, Donahoe said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.