Postal workers continued their quest to prevent job loss and maintain service levels Monday during a peaceful protest and demonstration.
Employees and their supporters gathered at the post office in downtown Hickory on Monday to distribute flyers, display signs and circulate a petition protesting the consolidation of a 200-worker mail processing facility. The facility serves the Hickory Metro and is located in Conover.
The United States Postal Service announced the possible consolidation in early February as a potential way to cut costs after a 20 percent mail volume reduction since 2007. If the consolidation happens, mail in the 286 zip code will be sent to the postal service's Greensboro facility for processing before it returns to Catawba County for delivery.
Postal workers say that move is cost-prohibitive, because mail customers' service will suffer as a result.
"It's a very personalized service," said Doug Woodward, member of the American Postal Workers Union and an employee at the Hickory processing facility in Conover. "We help the mail get to where it's supposed to go faster. The people that work this service live here."
Postal workers and several other supporters distributed information about the consolidation and how they said it will affect the postal service and its customers. The workers had a petition on hand that expressed opposition of the facility's consolidation — which they say will cause widespread job loss and service reduction. About three hours after the protest started Monday, the workers collected almost 100 signatures.
Business owner Pam Billings, of Hickory, was one of those signatures.
"Our mail has to continue to flow in an efficient manner," Billings said, adding that her business could suffer if mail service slows down.
The signed petition will be sent to Rep. Patrick McHenry, Sen. Kay Hagan and Sen. Richard Burr.
Other postal customers asked questions about the consolidation, and many wanted to know why, if the consolidation happens, mail sent among Catawba County residents will be sent from the county to Greensboro then back to Catawba County for delivery.
The postal workers' answer: We don't know.
Woodward said the facility is one of the country's most efficient, processing more than a million letters and parcels each night. Most of the workers at the facility live in Catawba County or surrounding counties, so they know the service area and can catch mail errors people in Greensboro won't, postal workers said.
And if those 200 workers and their families lose their jobs, that means they must find employment elsewhere, taking their jobs, money and expenditures with them.
"If I have to sell my house and move to Greensboro, my money won't be here," said Fran S. Bolick, who passed out flyers and held a sign Monday that said 'Save Our Service.' "It won't be at the beauty shop; it won't be at the grocery store or anywhere else I spend my money."
Daniel Rolon, who works the night shift at the Hickory mail processing facility, said he noticed changes in customer service as a mail customer himself.
Rolon, who lives in Granite Falls and commutes to Conover, said he sent his monthly motorcycle payment through the mail, and it took the company 13 days to receive his payment.
He noticed an extra charge on his next payment statement, and when he called the company, he discovered that they received his payment late, even though he sent it on time. Rolon said, after discussing his problem with the company agreed to waive the late fee because they had other customers calling in with similar complaints of slow mail service.
Conover City Manager Donald Duncan told The O-N-E last week that the city noticed a increase in its undeliverable mail after the county's processing facility was partially consolidated with the Greensboro facility in early 2010. The city previously received about four undeliverable pieces of mail a month, and after the consolidation, they had about four undeliverable pieces a day, Duncan said.
The USPS is conducting an Area Mail Processing study involving the Hickory processing facility to determine if closing the site will help the service account for declining mail volume and excess workers and facilities.