Plan to improve Lehigh Valley mail delivery by sending it to Harrisburg derided by locals, workers
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A public input session addressing potential changes to the Lehigh Valley’s mail delivery drew dozens of postal workers – and a few civilians – to Allentown’s Movie Tavern Thursday evening, along with more than enough ire for the proposal.
During the presentation, officials offered a few details on the United States Postal Service’s Mail Processing Facility Review studies, focusing on the Lehigh Valley Processing and Distribution Center. And while presenters reiterated the “streamlined” process could lead to substantial savings, assumptions about delayed deliveries took center stage.
One of the most contentious elements of the presentation detailed a plan to ship mail originating from the Lehigh Valley and the Poconos to Harrisburg for processing before it is sent back to the Valley for further processing and delivery.
“I don't see where the money savings is going to come. I work for the clerk grants. If you're going to move mail from here to here, no employees are being laid off, you're still going to have the same operating costs, you're not going to save that money in mail processing, and it could lead to lower delivery standards."National Business Agent for the American Postal Workers Union Robert J. Romanowski
Strategic Communications Specialist Paul Smith and Senior Division Director Dave Webster reassured the crowd the Lehigh Valley facility would not be closing, rather, it would serve as a local processing center, with no career employee layoffs as part of the initiative.
“It is in our handbook to hold these types of meetings whenever we do operational changes, so it is important, I think, for the community as well as for employees to know our plans,” Smith.
The new Lehigh Valley-based local processing center would be improved through modernization via standard designs and workflow and refined operations, with machine repositioning to improve mail flow, removal of obstructions from the workroom floor, improvements to lighting and common areas, and more.
While destinating mail – incoming mail arriving for its point of delivery – will remain at the Lehigh Valley Processing Center, originating mail – outgoing mail, essentially – will be sent out to the Harrisburg Processing and Delivery Center.
“We are pleased to be investing in the Lehigh Valley facility and keeping it open as an LPC. We expect the new LPC to have minimal changes to customer service. In fact, retail and other currently available services will remain unchanged,” Webster said.
“A local postmark would continue to be available at locations within the community. We do not anticipate any changes to residential and business time of delivery. Business mail entry, post office operations stations, and branch retail services will remain unchanged. Delivery services are expected to remain unchanged in most cases.”
Smith pointed out Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s focus on restoring timely service and addressing issues plaguing the government agency via “streamlining,” though details as to how this will benefit the customers in the Lehigh Valley are scant at the moment.
“I think the whole Postmaster General's plan is to streamline processing, to streamline transportation, to streamline delivery operations. He's all about efficiency and timely service. You know, some of the customers talked about some of the service issues, and this is exactly what he's looking to address,” Smith said.
According to Webster’s presentation, this switch will result in $535,000 to $710,000 in mail processing savings; $750,000 to $1 million in maintenance savings; $3.7 million to $4.9 million in transportation savings; and $350,000 to $470,000 in management savings, adding up to an estimated $5.3 to $7 million in total savings.
Employee impacts will yield no layoffs, Webster’s presentation noted, though 25 craft career positions may be reassigned, along with six management positions.
National Business Agent for the American Postal Workers Union Robert J. Romanowski raised concerns about the status of the plan itself, noting the public could not adequately provide commentary if they had no idea what they were weighing in on.
Beyond that, Romanowski questioned where the savings would come from and how mail processing would remain largely unchanged when the estimated price tag – a figure he said he researched himself – for the entire Mail Processing Facility Review changes came to about $40 billion.
“I don't see where the money savings is going to come. I work for the clerk grants. If you're going to move mail from here to here, no employees are being laid off, you're still going to have the same operating costs, you're not going to save that money in mail processing, and it could lead to lower delivery standards,” Romanowski said.
Pennsylvania Postal Workers Union Vice President Kevin Gallagher raised concerns about the increased traffic to Harrisburg which could lead to delays in processing and delivery, leading to lower than ideal rates for postal workers.
“So Harrisburg is what, 90 some miles from [the] Lehigh [Valley]? So you're adding a minimum of two hours, in perfect, ideal conditions, on your transportation time, and a minimum of two hours coming back,” Gallagher said.
“So that’s four hours, you're delaying the processing of mail that now takes place four hours earlier by the Lehigh [Valley] plant. In addition, you have all those extra costs that you're paying for those tractor-trailers. I don't see where the savings and transportation will be realized.”
Civilian Beverly Hernandez, who works in politics, said she fears the potential for mail delays, especially during a busy election season where many people have taken to using mail-in ballots.
“That's the main problem. And since I work with elections and candidates, I'm thinking the election is going to be delayed. You're going to get mail-in ballots coming back late, or the election board is going to be saying that ‘Well, it's too late. They came in, the election’s over, we can count these votes.’ Or is it going to be that we're going to delay the counting because things are so late? I am not happy about this, and anything I can do to counter I will be,” Hernandez said.
Additional union members, postal workers, and civilians voiced similar concerns, focusing on delayed deliveries, and in at least one case, worries about the low turnout at the meeting for those not involved in the industry, as the meeting was held in the afternoon of a workday with limited advertising for the event.
Pennsylvania Postal Workers Union Director of Clerk Craft Charles Kukulski, who previously worked outside Philadelphia, said he has seen similar restructuring efforts for USPS facilities in the past, all of which resulted in delivery issues.
“I have customers that are shipping through UPS now because they don't want to go through the Postal Service. I, myself, I'm retired, I'm still a local president. But for my credit card bills, I will not put them in the mail, I will call on the phone and pay them rather than put it in the mail because every time I continue to put it in the mail, I get a late fee. They cannot get it done,” Kukulski said.
Stepping up at the end of the public comment, Romanowski reiterated a few of the key points shared by the audience before emphasizing that restructuring was happening across the country and shared his hope that public opinion would be taken into consideration before any final decisions were made.
“But I want you to know, from California to Florida, up to Maine, this is happening -- so every post office will be affected one way or the other. So we will hope that someone literally is listening to these recordings and understands this is a big deal,” Romanowski said.
A release issued by the APWU’s Lehigh Valley branch also noted a concern that the Harrisburg facility lacks the capacity to take on additional mail, which could be routed through Lancaster, leading to additional mileage and delays. The release also touched on the idea that “optimized collections” would end nightly pickup at post office locations, again, leading to delays in processing and deliveries.
And while the plan promised no layoffs, the APWU’s Lehigh Valley branch noted a potential for employment impact, nonetheless.
“Whether current employees are impacted, or not, this change will result in postal jobs leaving the Lehigh Valley area,” the APWU Lehigh Valley statement reads. “The loss of these jobs will negatively impact municipal tax revenues, as well as revenue for local restaurants and businesses.”
Going forward, the Postal Service will review and consider the public comments, conclude the Mail Processing Facility Review analysis, keep employees and other stakeholders informed, and continue support of delivering for America, according to Webster’s presentation.
Residents and workers can read the business case for the Lehigh Valley facility online, and can also submit written comments, which must be received by Dec. 15, 2023.