Station and Branch Closures
Community Battles to Keep Retail Units Open
APWU Web News Article #098-09, Aug. 20, 2009
APWU members have been pressing the Postal Service for information about stations and branches targeted for closure, and rallying the support of communities, their legislators, and the media about USPS plans to shutter nearly 700 large post offices.
In its third official presentation of retail facilities under consideration for consolidation, the Postal Service provided a House subcommittee with a list of 677 stations and branches [PDF] on July 30, which were selected from more than 3,200 on lists received by the union in May and June.
However, a management representative told the House panel that the list is subject to further review: Some of the 677 stations could remain open, while additional stations and branches could be targeted for closing.
Managers said they anticipated only a 60-day process for making these decisions, including a 20-day period for input from affected customers. APWU members have taken to the streets in protest, and the response from postal customers has been almost universally favorable. Executive Vice President Cliff Guffey said community activism is essential. “Locals must reach out to neighborhood groups, churches, business organizations and elected officials to get them involved in preserving service,” he said.
Union members collecting signatures from postal patrons say that community support is strong. John Morrissey, a member of the union’s Omaha Area Local, stood outside the Florence, NE, post office during his lunch hour one weekday in late July. A news report later that day indicated that almost every person Morrissey asked to sign a petition did so.
Tom Edwards, president of the APWU St. Paul Area Local, told a municipal planning board meeting that community members would have to join together to try to stop the closing of a branch. “This should be about what you as a community want to do to save your post office.” Edwards later told a reporter for a TV station, “This is all about service. When they shut these facilities down, it's the public that suffers. This is America's store. We own this!”
Sometimes the “ownership” comes at a very small cost, especially when a station isn’t owned, but leased. As Boston Metro Area APWU Vice President Bob Dempsey pointed out in a late-July letter to Rep. Stephen Lynch, among the stations on the list of 677 targeted for possible closure is the one on the campus of Tufts University. According to the Postal Service, the lease agreement is “$1 per year, with utilities included,” Lynch was told, and it has an “automatic renewal clause.”
There are two employees at the Tufts station and the walk-in revenue in 2008 was $347,524. Dempsey also presented Lynch with data about five other well-performing Boston-area stations. “The Postal Service has repeatedly stated that these facilities are under consideration for discontinuance in an effort to save money,” Dempsey wrote. “However, each one of these facilities provides an ample profit.”
Another small post office that undoubtedly is profitable is in the Twin Cities suburb of Mendota. It’s busy on any given day, with as many as 100 people coming and going, said St. Paul local APWU member Mike Schletty, the station’s lone clerk.
APWU NBA Lyle Krueth is among those confident that post offices like Mendota will always be busy and that when the economy improves, USPS attempts at cost-cutting will come back to haunt them. The Postal Service is “constitutionally bound to provide service first and foremost,” Krueth told the Twin Cities Daily Planet, and it should be poised to grow when the economy does.
Stonewalling Union RFI’s
The review of stations currently targeted is scheduled to be completed by Oct. 2, management has said, so that consolidations could be implemented at the start of the new fiscal year. Hoping to head off unnecessary closures, APWU locals have sought information from the Postal Service, including which stations are under consideration. Locals are also seeking information about the costs of operating the stations, the revenue they generate, and other relevant factors.
Many APWU activists are convinced that the postal officials are instructing local managers to stonewall when faced with Requests for Information (RFI’s) on affected branches.
“The USPS clearly is playing stall ball with our RFI’s,” said Assistant Clerk Craft Director Mike Morris. “We believe that management will try to run out the clock to close these stations and contract out the work out in violation of our agreement. They know full well that it will be more difficult to reverse these improper closings than to stop them from occurring in the first place.” The national union is communicating with postal headquarters on the issue and, if appropriate, will file charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
If the experiences of APWU locals in Florida and Connecticut are typical, it would seem that the sole directive from USPS on the national level is that its lower-level managers should simply delay.
The list of targeted stations included more than a dozen that are staffed by members of the Palm Beach Area Local. The local’s president, Wayne Parker, received from the Postal Service a “request” itself:
“With respect to each of the 19 enumerated items in your information request ... please explain the relevance of the information requested within that specific item to the Union’s statutory and contractual duties, including whether and how it may relate to either an actual grievance the Union is pursuing or to a potential grievance that the Union is investigating or whether and how each of these fields of information might otherwise pertain to the terms and conditions of employment of APWU bargaining unit members.”
John Dirzius, president of the Greater Connecticut Area Local APWU, reported that he did not even get a written response to either of his two RFIs. “We were verbally advised by management that they were not going to provide any info to us,” Dirzius said, adding that managers said they were acting on instructions from the Area level.
After getting no response to an official letter to the District Manager requesting a meeting to bargain over the issue, Dirzius said that the union was able to meet, but not to bargain. “We were advised by the Acting District Manager that we would not be getting any information as it might end up in the press. Management would not meet to bargain over the impact of this issue, and we should talk with the local postmasters if we had any further questions.”
“We were also advised that there would be union input only during the ‘community input component’ of this process,” Dirzius said. “My opinion is that management is going to make their decisions very soon and move very quickly to shut these stations down without any meaningful union or community input.”
(The APWU on the national level recently made its “Second Request for Information Related to Stations and Branches Optimization.” In an Aug. 20 letter [PDF] to the USPS, President William Burrus noted that “To date, the Postal Service has been non-responsive to the APWU information request” of July 17.)
The Union Fights On
As President Burrus told a House subcommittee, the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Postal Service says that “The parties agree that all existing retail operations will remain within the installation of which they are a part and all future retail operations established within the jurisdiction of an installation shall become a part of that installation.”
“We expect them to comply and will press postal management to fully comply with the contractual agreement,” Burrus said.
Locals should also make certain that the local community is allowed to provide adequate input before these decisions are made.
For more information on challenging CPUs, see the APWU Station & Branch Consolidation 'Tool Kit' [Members Only - PDF]