DETROIT (AP) — An ailing U.S. Postal Service is preparing to close and consolidate processing facilities across Michigan, from its capital city to a community on the Wisconsin border, as the state in turn emerges from its own economic woes.
The postal service's planned actions affect operations in and around Gaylord, Iron Mountain, Jackson, Kalamazoo, Lansing and Saginaw. The moves affect 475 jobs, though officials say that number includes an undetermined mix of layoffs, transfers or retraining of workers.
The postal service has said the changes are on hold until May to allow federal lawmakers time to come up with an alternative plan, and officials are still making final evaluations. But postal spokesman Ed Moore said nothing changes the bottom line: The agency has "too much real estate for the amount of mail that comes in now." The postal service has experienced a 25 percent drop in first-class mail volume since 2006 with the rapid rise of electronic communication.
Michigan planned postal moves include moving all processing operations from Lansing to facilities in Pontiac and Grand Rapids, and from Kingsford near Iron Mountain to Green Bay, Wis. In addition, operations in Jackson will move to facilities in Detroit, Kalamazoo to Grand Rapids, Saginaw to Pontiac, and Gaylord to Traverse City.
Processing plants are centralized locations where mail is sorted and redistributed to final destinations.
The proposed closings and consolidations come on the heels of the announced closure last summer of 17 post offices in southeastern Michigan. Moore said upon further review, postal officials have halted the process of closing six and the remaining 11 are still being evaluated.
"If the volume was there, we wouldn't be closing processing facilities," Moore said. "But when there is a decline of about 45 billion pieces (of mail) in the past five years or so ... that is a significant amount of your volume, a significant amount of your revenue that we don't expect to return."
Of course, the displacement or demise of hundreds of jobs is a small drop in comparison to the hundreds of thousands lost in Michigan during the first decade of the 21st century. But it's still a big loss for already hard-hit medium-sized cities, including Lansing and Jackson, and small communities such as the southwestern Upper Peninsula city of Kingsford.
"It'll be pretty big," said Brian Smeester, a truck driver and part-time city councilman in Kingsford. Beyond the 50 to 60 jobs affected at his city's processing facility, there are those who drive trucks between area postal facilities.
"Those are good middle-class paying jobs," he said. "It's going to trickle through the economy."
The city of roughly 5,000 people became a small hub for the middle class in-the-making in the 1920s, when Ford Motor Co. opened a sawmill and parts plant to make wooden components for its cars. A history on the city's website said Kingsford's claim to barbecuing fame came from charcoal reclaimed from the sawmill operation: It was turned into briquettes and sold as Ford Charcoal Briquettes — later renamed after Kingsford.
Smeester said Kingsford was Ford's "little dream, his little experiment." Although those ventures are gone, Ford's legacy remains in several ways, including a housing development known as the Ford Addition in which Smeester lives.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Carl Levin has entered the fray on the postal facilities, publicly releasing a letter he wrote last month to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe, seeking to know how many Michigan jobs would be eliminated or transferred, the distance of each transfer and projected savings of the consolidations and closings. Moore said Donahoe plans to respond directly to Levin.
For his part, Smeester would like to see Washington enact regulations on the freight industry eased in 1980, when President Jimmy Carter signed the Motor Carrier Act that considerably deregulated the U.S. trucking sector. Smeester said bulk packages are profitable for the postal service, but they have been "cut out by corporations."
"Try to mail a letter for 50 cents through FedEx or UPS," he said.
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