Postal plant closures delayed

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will delay closing its Hickory and Conover mail processing centers until May, the agency announced Tuesday.

In response to requests made by multiple U.S. senators, USPS has agreed to delay the closing or consolidation of any post office or mail processing facility until May 15, 2012.

In a statement, the agency said it will hold off on closings to give Congress more time to pass what it called “comprehensive legislation” that will help the agency avoid bankruptcy.

The Postal Service, which is expected to default Friday on a $5.5 billion payment to the Treasury, is forecast to lose a record $14.1 billion next year.

In all, roughly 100,000 postal employees could be cut as a result of the various closures to 252 mail processing centers and 3,700 local post offices nationwide. The agency said the closings would result in savings of up to $6.5 billion a year.

In Catawba County, the USPS is looking to consolidate the Hickory processing center to Greensboro and close its processing facility in Conover. The changes would affect about 400 jobs.

The agency says some jobs will be retained and transferred to other areas, and maintains that service will not be affected.

Local government officials disagree. As USPS officials conducted an Area Mail Processing (AMP) study, officials from both Conover and Hickory voiced opposition to closing the processing centers in Catawba County. Conover officials, in particular, said that previous USPS consolidation efforts relocating outgoing mail processing operations already delivered a negative impact to mail service the city receives. In a May public hearing, Conover Mayor Lee Moritz detailed the problems his city has endured.

"Conover bills an average 6,000 customers each month. Since April 2010, we have seen a nine-fold increase in returned bills," he said, adding these problems have caused serious issues for the city. "We have to track down, re-process, adjust late fees, and in some cases, have cut-off water to our otherwise good citizens.”

Now, the Postal Service says it will delay closings in hopes of new legislation and “will continue all necessary steps required for the review of these facilities during the interim period, including public input meetings,” according to the statement released Tuesday.

The move may be delaying the inevitable, and USPS regional spokesman Carl Walton said the future is still unclear.

Meanwhile, work is continuing at the Hickory and Conover processing plants, as well as plants across the country.

In a statement on Tuesday, American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey said the announcement from USPS is a “victory.”

“This is a victory for the American people and for postal workers,” Guffey said. “It is a direct result of the protests by postal employees, small business owners and community leaders. But make no mistake: This is a temporary reprieve. Postal executives have made clear that they intend to proceed with studies and plans to close thousands of post offices and more than half of the nation’s mail processing centers.”