07/26/2011 06:43 pm ET Updated Sep 25, 2011

Postal Service Targets The Bronx: 17 Stations Could Be Closed Under 'Expanded Access' Study

The United States Postal Service announced on Tuesday that up to 34 retail offices in New York City could be closed starting in January. A full half of those stations on death row are in the Bronx, including the Hunts Point, Morrisania, West Farms and Castle Hill locations.

The potential cuts are all part of a study dubbed "Expanded Access" by the Postal Service, which is looking at whether to close 3,700 post offices. The USPS, under pressure from Congress to cut costs and avert a disputed pension shortfall, is desperate to find savings anywhere it can.

At the same time, the Postal Service doesn't want to anger politicians whose offices will be flooded with calls if neighborhood offices close. So it says the plan won't hurt service because "village post offices," at private businesses like CVS and Duane Reade, will pick up the slack on ordinary customers' needs by selling stamps.

The New York Metro Area Postal Union argues that the plan is a fantasy.

"Whatever they say -- it's like '1984' some of the phrases they come out with -- but in reality they're not going to improve service, they never have. Service gets worse with everything they've done," union political director Chuck Zlatkin told HuffPost.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. is not happy about all the closures. "I am extremely concerned that 17 postal locations in the Bronx are being studied for potential closure. The Bronx cannot afford such a considerable loss of both jobs and commercial activity," he said in a statement.

His communications director, John DeSio, added that it was "somewhat troublesome that the Bronx is seeing an exponentially higher potential closure rate here than any other borough."

Union officials said the closures could have a ripple effect on small businesses that rely on nearby post offices.

The post office closures, which are far from final as of yet, come on the heels of an announcement from the Postal Service that a behind-closed-doors processing and distributions center at the Bronx General Post Office on Grand Concourse will shutter by October. The union already had a Wednesday "emergency rally" planned to protest that closure before the Tuesday announcement of the nationwide effort.

Postal Service spokeswoman Darleen Reid said closing the processing center was necessary to save $8.8 million. She added that the Bronx was not being singled out.

"Mail volume continues to drop. Alarmingly. So we're not doing this just in the Bronx, we're doing this nationwide," Reid told HuffPost.

The Postal Service said mail volume is down 20 percent since 2007, the height of boom-era good times, when credit card mailers and mortgage offers propped up the outfit even after email had become a daily reality for most Americans.

In order to process mail more efficiently, the Postal Service plans to send 117 tractor trailers a day from the Bronx to Manhattan so that mail can be processed there and then shipped back up across the Harlem River.

Jimmy Perez, an assistant director with the postal union who has worked as a mail processing clerk for 24 years, said he doubted the Postal Service would realize any efficiencies from the consolidation.

"It's not money-saving," he said. He believes the Postal Service is closing facilities to impress the Republican-controlled House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been putting intense pressure on the USPS to close a pension gap without asking for government money. "They just want to close post office facilities because they're under the thumb of Congress."

No employees would lose their jobs in the closing of the processing center, but they would be forced to work out of a Manhattan office or head to places further afield.

For employee Doretha Fitch, a 16-year veteran of the Post Office who works the 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift in the Bronx, that would be a major inconvenience. She lives on East 115th Street, just a few subway stops away from her job, and would be forced to rearrange her commute.

"There's a possibility that we might go to some part of Jersey," Fitch said. "I don't have that extra money, really."

There has been some speculation by the union that the move is intended to pressure employees into quitting -- the only way the Postal Service can cut its current workforce under its contract with the union.

But Fitch said she is not going anywhere. "I love working for the Postal Service. This is my bread and butter."