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Hickory plant on latest postal closings list

May 17, 2012

The nearly bankrupt U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is moving forward with a multibillion-dollar cost-cutting plan that will close nearly 250 mail processing centers, including its Hickory facility.

USPS includes its Hickory processing and delivery facility on a list of more than 100 candidates for closure and consolidation beginning this summer. The agency proposes to close the facility and consolidate it to a Greensboro plant by February 2013 in a move that would impact about 400 jobs.

USPS leaders said Thursday the agency can no longer wait as Congress remains deadlocked over how to help.

At a news briefing, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said the agency's mail processing network had simply become too big, given declining first-class mail volume and mounting debt. It will now consolidate nearly 250 plants as originally proposed, including 48 this summer, but will stretch out the remainder over a longer time frame in 2013 and 2014.

Earlier this month, nearly half the Senate had written letters to Donahoe asking that he hold off on closing any mail facility until Congress could pass final postal overhaul legislation. The Senate last month passed a bill that would halt many of the closings. The House remains stalled over a separate postal measure allowing for more aggressive cuts.

"To return to long-term profitability and financial stability while keeping mail affordable, we must match our network to the anticipated workload," Donahoe said. Failure to do so, he stressed, would "create a fiscal hole that the Postal Service will not be able to climb out of."

Under the modified approach, up to 140 processing centers will be consolidated by next February — roughly 48 in August and about 90 next January and February. Closings would be suspended during the Postal Service's busy election and holiday mail season. Another 89 closings would occur in 2014.

The consolidations are initially expected to reduce postal staff by 13,000 and save the struggling mail agency roughly $1.2 billion annually. By the time the full round of cuts is implemented by late 2014, the post office will have 28,000 fewer employees with estimated annual savings of $2.1 billion.

The latest postal move comes after vociferous protests from communities across the U.S., particularly those in rural areas, over the mail agency's initial multibillion dollar cost-cutting plan to close up to 3,700 post offices and 252 mail processing centers. The Postal Service last week backed off the closing of post offices, saying it would cut costs instead by reducing operating hours in 13,000 mostly rural locations.

Thursday's announcement seeks to allay consumer concerns about immediate, broad-scale cuts to mail processing centers that would have slowed first-class mail delivery of prescription drugs, newspapers and other services beginning this summer and would have virtually eliminated the chance for a stamped letter to arrive the next day.

Under the new plan, about 80 percent of the U.S. areas that currently enjoy overnight first-class mail delivery will continue to do so through the end of next year. After that, barring congressional action, the Postal Service will proceed with additional steps that could slow first-class mail and reduce overnight delivery more significantly, said Megan Brennan, chief operating officer of the Postal Service.

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