USPS says consolidations won’t affect customers

Enterprise file photo — Noah Zweifel

The East Berne Post Office has been criticized for its poor physical condition as work orders that would address this languish.

ALBANY COUNTY — Big changes are happening within the public mail system, but despite rumors of post-office consolidations, those who rely on their local offices don’t need to worry about closures, the United States Postal Service says. 

The USPS is currently building new sorting and delivery centers, which will be regional facilities where mail collected from local post offices is processed for delivery, as opposed to being sorted at each office. 

Although it’s a consolidation of back-office work, use of the word “consolidation” in news articles and USPS reports to describe the change has created confusion for some residents, who associate the term with closures.

When The Enterprise followed up on an unverified rumor that a regional post office executive was visiting Hilltown post offices to gather information to help with consolidation, USPS spokesman Mark Lawrence responded in an email that sites are being evaluated for the creation of the centers, but that these centers will not result in the closure of any offices. 

“As we move forward with this initiative, customers will see no changes to their local post office retail operations,” he said. “No post offices will be closed and PO Box service will not be changed.” 

This is in line with a memorandum of understanding that the USPS signed with the American Postal Workers Union in June, stating that these new centers cannot be used as a reason to close offices or reduce services. 

Although the memo says that discussions between the union and post-office management about staffing levels and other matters “will continue,” Lawrence said that “there will be no employee lay-offs as part of this effort,” and that employee transfers will be done according to the collective bargaining agreement. 

A presentation about the changes published by the union last week stressed that notifications about a facility becoming a sorting and delivery center was not equivalent to a “notification of excessing.” 

“If and when excessing under Article 12.C.5 is to occur, your Regional Coordinator will receive notification and be in touch with affected local leadership,” the union said.

Times Hudson Valley also reported on rumors about 15 Hudson Valley post offices closing, quoting from the same statement Lawrence sent The Enterprise. 

As of right now, there is no sorting and delivery center anywhere near the Capital Region. 

“The first S&DC site was unveiled in the fall of 2022 in Athens, Georgia,” Lawrence told The Enterprise. “We are moving forward with opening 5 new S&DC locations in Gainesville, FL; Panama City, FL; Woburn, MA; Utica, NY; and Bryan, TX.

“These initial S&DC sites were selected based on detailed analysis of our operational and financial environment and takes into consideration our electric vehicle infrastructure implementation. We will continue to evaluate additional potential S&DC sites based on these criteria and further configuration of the new network.”

 

Background

The purpose of these new sorting and delivery centers is to streamline back-office operations as part of the larger Delivering for America 10-year plan, which was published in 2021 and is itself an attempt to make the postal system more efficient overall. 

“For decades, our outmoded network has created significant financial losses, increased deferred maintenance costs, deteriorated workplace conditions for our employees, and failed to efficiently integrate mail and package processing and delivery,” Lawrence told The Enterprise. “The transformation of our network is necessary and fundamental to our continuation as an organization and service to the American people and our business customers.”

Because some of these centers will be created in existing facilities, it will have a knock-on effect of bringing substantial upgrades to these buildings, “​​in many cases also accomplishing deferred maintenance,” Lawrence said. 

Last year, The Enterprise reported on the condition of the East Berne Post Office after a resident complained about it, and learned from then-postmaster David McClure that work orders were in but would take a long time to be completed because “we’re in the wilderness out here.” 

When The Enterprise followed up on the requested repairs last month following another complaint, Lawrence said that, while potholes in the parking lot had been filled, other repairs would “take time.” 

The frustration over the condition of the East Berne Post Office and the fear about that and other local post offices potentially closing are both related to the fact that rural Americans are often overlooked in conversations about USPS and how much funding it deserves. 

It doesn’t help that the postmaster overseeing the changes implemented through the Delivering for America plan, Louis DeJoy — a major donor to Donald Trump, who called for the privatization of the post office when he was president — is the same one who infamously undermined postal service around the time of the 2020 election by removing equipment and cutting salaries, causing massive delays in mailing times, including for critical items like prescriptions. 

In rural areas like the Hilltowns, the mail is the easiest way for people, especially the elderly, to get their medications, so closures and any other service disruptions have an outsized impact. According to Google Maps, the closest pharmacy to the Berne Town Hall is a 30-minute drive. 

When USPS shut down the Knox Post Office in 2012, because of issues like mold and rodents, residents were upset because their post office boxes were moved to East Berne. Later, post office boxes were installed outside the town hall but no postal services were offered. 

Enterprise columnist John Williams most thoroughly cataloged the local frustration in a 2014 edition of his Old Men of the Mountain column, which recounts the conversations that a large group of elderly Hilltowners have each week.

“The OFs have mentioned before (in this little weekly report) that the Hilltown Café and the Rensselaerville Post Office are in the same small building just outside the village, off the road heading up the hill,” he wrote. “The OFs who live in the town of Knox take advantage of this to purchase stamps, and take care of other post-office business because the post office in the town of Knox is no longer available. 

“The OFs complain about this all the time,” he went on. “The OFs in Knox have to trot either to East Berne or Altamont to transact any routine post-office business they may have. For some OFs, this is a 20-mile round trip. ’Tain’t fun, Magee, when the alimony is due and there is a blinding snowstorm … Something doesn’t add up here, so the OFs still complain and are wondering whom we have offended.”

Union leaders and politicians from both parties have expressed concern about how the creation of these sorting and delivery centers will affect mail delivery even if it doesn’t change the way people interact with their post office. 

According to Government Executive, a trade publication for federal employees, union leaders are upset about the paucity of information about the exact effects the changes will have on post offices.

Edmund Carley, president of United Postmasters and Managers of America, which is not a union, “previously told Government Executive that his members expressed outrage over the plan, as post offices that have only retail offerings and not back-end mail processing typically do not have a postmaster on site. Those supervisors are now worried they will be out of a job,” the publication said.

Right now, the Hilltown post offices are overseen by a single postmaster, listed as Becky Plumb, who is officially assigned to the Westerlo Post Office. The Westerlo Post Office is the central office in the Hilltowns after the others had been consolidated into it.

More Hilltowns News

  • Berne-Knox-Westerlo kicked off the 2024-25 administrative school year at its reorganizational meeting on July 1, where the board of education elected Matthew Tedeschi as its president, and heard from the new superintendent, Bonnie Kane, on the district’s new block-scheduling format.

  • In a 3-to-2 vote, the Westerlo Town Board got rid of the town’s planning board — which Supervisor Matt Kryzak has described as “rogue” — despite opposition from residents and the Albany County Planning Board.

  • Berne-Knox-Westerlo salutatorian Katie Joslin is headed to the State University of New York at Binghamton where they will study psychology, hoping to one day go into private practice and help give adolescents a strong foundation during their formative years. 

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