What used to be an overnight trip across town for First-Class mail is about to get longer and slower under the U.S. Postal Service's plan to close Rochester's mail processing center.
The Postal Service said Thursday that in Minnesota, it will move processing from Duluth and Rochester to the St. Paul Processing and Distribution Center in Eagan and processing operations in St. Cloud, Mankato and Bemidji to a center in Minneapolis. In Rochester, only the Processing and Distribution Facility is closing. Post offices in the city will remain open.
"I think this will be devastating, especially for the elderly and disabled people who really depend on the mail for prescriptions," said Richard Haefner, president of the Minnesota Postal Workers Union.
First-Class mail will have a minimal two-day turn around, since all mail collected in Rochester will be trucked to Eagan, processed there and then trucked back, Haefner said.
The Postal Service unveiled a plan in September to close 252 of its 487 processing centers, a move officials said would save $3 billion annually. The Postal Service also is looking at closing 3,700 smaller post offices and ceasing Saturday mail delivery to help cut costs.
The agency said it needs to cut $20 billion in costs by 2015 to make up for a 50 percent reduction in first-class mail in recent years.
In Rochester, it will be more than mail that will be relocated. The closure will affect the 89 people working at the processing center.
Under the proposal presented to Postal Service employees on Wednesday, nine of the current clerks from the processing center would be absorbed into station operations at Rochester post offices to help with redistribution and transfer of mail as it goes in and out to Eagan, Haefner said.
The remainder of the employees would need to be relocated or possibly receive a financial incentive for retirement, Haefner said.
Between the positions lost in Rochester and ones gained at the St. Paul Processing Center, there are 41 fewer positions, said Pete Nowacki, spokesman for the Postal Service.
The Postal Service has a contractually agreed upon process for reassigning employees, Nowacki said. Some may go to St. Paul, some may go to another office near Rochester and some may choose to be a carrier or work at a post office window, he said.
There's also some hope that Congress will make changes to halt the closures, Haefner said.
The Postal Service began its study of 487 mail processing facilities nationwide in September. From that, 233 were selected to close based on underutilization of the system and to keep the service viable in the future, Nowacki said.
Specific dates for the consolidations have not been announced, although a moratorium on closures and consolidations ends in mid-May.
About 100 people attended a public hearing on the issue in Rochester on Nov. 16. Many spoke out against closure, citing the effect on delivery time and the number of jobs that Rochester would lose.
Closing the Rochester facility would save $3.6 million, according to the Postal Service.