Pocatello Takes On Washington
(This article first appeared in the January-February 2016 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine).
A group of elected officials from Southeastern Idaho have distinguished themselves as champions of the people. Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad, Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England, Bannock County Commissioner Howard Manwaring, Pocatello Planning and Development Service Director Lon Crowell, and Old Town Pocatello Executive Director Stephanie Palagi went to Washington, DC, at the end of October to fight to keep their mail processing plant operating and to keep post offices in their communities open.
Since the Flandro Drive processing plant was partially consolidated on April 18, 2015, the delegation and the Pocatello Local APWU have organized their community to give feedback about their mail service. In the 12-day period from Oct. 12-24, 2015, they received over 383 responses – and only one was positive.
But the fight began long before April. The delegation, along with the APWU, has been battling for more than five years to keep their plant and local post offices open.
On Oct. 27, Pocatello’s leaders met with the Postal Service and lawmakers in Washington, DC. I met with them before their meeting with management to provide them additional material. It was great to talk to leaders who share our goals and our hope that we can reverse consolidations.
They brought with them a binder showing the feedback they received about mail service, as well as all the activities, letters, petitions, and town hall meetings they have organized over the years, especially since 2013 when the plant was placed on the consolidation list.
The consolidation could not have gone forward if management hadn’t degraded service in January 2015. But Idaho isn’t meeting even the degraded service standards.
The Whole Truth
Yet, in response to the complaints lodged by the delegation, management told the media that Southeast Idaho has scored consistently in the 90s for on-time delivery.
But management failed to tell the whole truth: In the third quarter of fiscal year 2015, packages in the district were 78 percent on time, standard mail end-to-end scored just 56.6 percent and three-to-five-day first class mail scored 72.6 percent. Only two-day first class mail scored 95.8 percent. (Under the degraded service standards, there is no overnight delivery of single-piece first class mail.)
The delays are the result of the Postal Service’s decision to send Southeast Idaho’s outgoing mail to Utah. Next year, management plans to have Utah handle all of Southeast Idaho’s mail processing. This would devastate the area. The Idaho leaders brought with them overpowering evidence that the partial consolidation has already severely damaged the state.
Idaho communities have a right to expect the promise of our U.S Constitution and the Postal Reorganization Act: All areas, and all communities, including rural areas, should be provided access to prompt, reliable, efficient and equitable services.
Many gaining facilities have been unable to handle the mail that has been sent to them from consolidated facilities. On occasion Salt Lake City has sent mail from Southeast Idaho to be cancelled at other facilities, such as Denver. The USPS just needs to admit that Pocatello should be cancelling its own mail.
The 81 facilities on the 2013 consolidation list that were closed or partially consolidated provided better service for the rural areas they served. Consolidations are depriving the areas the losing facilities served of equal access to universal service. In order to stop this discriminatory practice, each site that has gone through the consolidation process should request that these actions be reversed. Get your community, state officials and federal leaders involved.
The Postal Service appears to be pushing consolidations and looking for ways to outsource mail processing.
In Jonesboro, AR, management is considering leasing space in a Postal Service facility to a private business that pre-sorts mail because, as the private company takes on more work, it needs more room. We are working on this and many privatization issues. As the USPS continues to push privatization, we will need to get out and organize these pre-sort companies.
In recent investigations we have found that the Postal Service also plans to encourage private contractors to lease space near gaining facilities, large plants and Bulk Mail Centers so the contractors can process mail, hire employees to do our work, and save money off the backs of postal workers across the country.
This would harm urban and rural communities, destroying good, living-wage jobs along with fair and equitable mail service.
The 81 full and partial mail processing consolidations have adversely affected universal mail service. The Postal Service claims there are cost savings. However, the savings are overshadowed by the harm to customers, communities and employees.
It is not too late to bring the mail, employees and equipment back to the Pocatello mail processing facility and to the other affected sites across the country.
Our message must be clear: We need legislators who will save our communities and the people’s Postal Service.
In addition to the negative effect poor mail service has on communities generally, lawmakers ought to be concerned about the adverse effect it will have on elections in more than 30 states that vote by mail or have no-fault absentee voting.
In Bear Lake County, ID, where a vote on building a new courthouse was defeated by just four votes, absentee ballots failed to reach voters in a timely manner and ballots arrived after the deadline for voting.
The delays in Bear Lake were most likely caused by the consolidation of the Pocatello mail processing plant, but the problem isn’t an isolated one. In Lucas County, OH, 198 absentee ballots were received after the deadline for voting. The Toledo plant was partially consolidated on April 18, and Lucas County is now sending its mail to Detroit.
In Colorado – a vote-by-mail state – the Secretary of State warned voters against mailing ballots for the November election and urged them to deliver their votes in person to make sure they were counted.
This is a voting rights issue, especially in the rural areas, which are the hardest hit.
We need everyone to keep up the fight. It is time to build the fires, heat our passion, and get this movement blazing. We have little time left.