by Gene Marrano
Postal workers and their supporters showed up by the hundreds Monday night, packing the William Fleming High School auditorium for a public hearing. Their message was loud and clear: do not close the Roanoke area mail processing center (AMP), which is one proposal on the table as the United States Postal Service struggles to reinvent itself and downsize at the same time, facing competition from e-mail, other Internet services, UPS and Fed-Ex that have eaten away at first class mail volume.
A decision on closing the Roanoke “AMP”, which employs more than 500 people, could be made as early as next month. Many of those employees will be moved to other postal jobs, as negotiated by the union, but up to 75 or so could be terminated. Appalachian District Manager Darrell Myers put on a power point presentation before several dozen speakers lined up for their two minutes at the microphone.
Myers got to the point: the United States Postal Service must change in order to remain competitive – the status quo will not do. Myers said the reduction of mail processing centers – from more than 600 to less than 200 – is “going on nationwide.”
If the Roanoke center were closed, mail generated locally would be sent to a larger facility in Greensboro, NC, where it would be processed – and sent back to Roanoke if intended for a local end user. Some of the speakers questioned the logic of sending Roanoke area mail out of town, only to bring it back for delivery.
A “50 percent decline in [the] bread and butter product,” said Myers of the loss of first class mail, means that changes must happen. “Six years of excess capacity [demands] more centralized use of facilities, equipment and people,” he added. The loss of Roanoke’s area mail processing center would mean that one-day in town delivery now could expect to become 2-3 days as transportation to and from Greensboro is factored in.
Myers, who later said he welcomed help from lawmakers to stem the tide of red ink that is forcing changes, had a sobering declaration: “we’re not going to need the facilities, we’re not going to need the people that we now have.” Closing the Roanoke AMP could save about 15 million dollars annually, a figure disputed by some of the speakers at Monday’s meeting. “The U.S. Postal Service will not be the same – we cannot survive,” Myers concluded.
When it came time for the public input session of the program, State Senator John Edwards led off and soon had the audience cheering. “Pennywise and pound-foolish,” said Edwards about any plan that would close the Roanoke facility. “This would be a death spiral [for the postal service]. I hope you would reconsider.”
Edwards, who said that early in his career he worked with an attorney who was a former postmaster general in the Kennedy administration, added that, “technology is not going to solve the problem [entirely].”
Brenda Hale had an idea that many liked: “send the Greensboro mail here,” said the former Roanoke NAACP chapter leader. Carlton Cooper, president of the American Postal Workers Union local in Roanoke, said that 9th District Congressman Morgan Griffith supports a bill that would help the Postal Service fund its retirement system – one of the major reasons the USPS is struggling these days. Cooper also sounded off: “I’m extremely upset with the current leadership that we have – you are selling me short and 550 workers [in the Roanoke center] short.”
Angie Hall read a statement from Griffith, in which the freshman federal lawmaker declared he was “ready, willing and able to assist the United States Postal Service …compete in the modern age.”
Chris Sowers, executive vice president of the local union, warned Myers that the numbers used in a study about the Roanoke AMP were “skewed” and outdated. He questioned the benefits from closing the distribution center as well, since under the current collective bargaining agreement it is difficult to lay someone off. “Where are the savings?”” he asked.
Myers said the Roanoke center is profitable – until transportation costs are factored in – a statement that drew some hoots from the crowd. As local postal workers pondered a decision about their futures that could come in less than a month, union official Tim Rasnick told Myers that Greensboro would be overwhelmed if it had to take on Roanoke’s mail as well: “cutting service is not a way to save the post office – it’s a way to destroy the post office.”