The Postal Service, reacting to worsening finances, and perhaps to get the attention of Congress on its need for legitimate relief, announced plans Sept. 15 to study closing more than half of its mail-processing facilities around the country.
As explained by Vice President Network Operations Dave Williams, the existing network was expanded over time primarily to serve growing First-Class volume. With that class in sharp decline, the network must be reconfigured. Therefore, the sad reality is that because First-Class Mail is declining, USPS thinks that it must make plant changes that will, in effect, ensure that other volumes face the same fate.
Although proposals on service standards would end overnight First-Class delivery, and on paper, only change Periodicals standards nationwide from one to nine days to two to nine days. Make no mistake: Service will decline for Periodicals and other classes of mail not entered at the office of delivery. USPS is effectively becoming a last-mile delivery agent only. Otherwise, it will not be a reliable “delivery partner.”
Reduction is Draconian
The proposed plant reduction can only be termed Draconian, and it holds special significance for community newspapers, which enter their mail mostly in or near small Sectional Center Facilities. Then it flows from those SCFs to many other ZIPs within the news coverage territory, or trade area where advertising is most effective. In Salida, Colo., for instance, Publisher Merle Baranczyk gets next-day delivery to post offices in all directions via highway contract routes from his Salida SCF, which is on the closure-study list for merger into Denver.
The plan, expected to save $3 billion a year, would expand on existing Area Mail Processing consolidation studies that have been increasing in frequency the past few years. Judging by the sharp deterioration in service based on the AMPs put into place so far, the proposed changes, if implemented, would in most cases take newspapers much farther away for processing and handling.
In Kentucky, for example, a Bowling Green AMP sending mail to Nashville for processing caused delivery to degrade from two days to five days for a Periodical owned by Landmark Community Newspapers. When the customer paid an upgrade fee for First-Class, which has a three-day nationwide service standard, the delivery still took five days, infuriating the customer.
Similar stories have been heard from the National Newspaper Association members across the country. USPS management assurances that existing service standards will be maintained or only degraded one day under AMPs have been false. There is no reason to believe that the massive proposed changes would do anything but severely disrupt delivery of Periodicals and all other classes of mail.
Make no mistake about it: This proposal, while said to be necessary with USPS financial losses, will surely do nothing but hasten the Postal Service’s demise as a meaningful conduit of hard-copy commerce. NNA firmly believes the five-day delivery proposal will also back up mail, reduce delivery service nationwide, and notes with regret that the Obama administration proposal on USPS Sept. 19, includes shifting to five-day. Add the two changes together, and it’s no exaggeration to term it “Postalgeddon.” (With 10-12 Monday holidays, there will be three days without mail delivery.)
Although the administration does ask for return of a $7 billion over-payment by USPS into the Federal Employee Retirement System (but over two years), it does not relieve the unfair pre-payment of $5.5 billion a year for retiree health benefits, something imposed on USPS as another “budget trick” to help the federal deficit in 2006.
It’s a shame that an agency supported only by mailer postage would be made a perpetual deficit punching bag because it’s part of the unified federal budget.
Obama also proposes to allow price increases above the rate of inflation, reversing the 2006 postal reform bill. Raising prices drastically, especially during a continuing nationwide recession with severe cuts in service, is a “perfect storm,” to continue the clichés (though true), for an ever-weaker USPS.
DDU entry a necessity
Clearly, newspapers can maintain local delivery by using Exceptional Dispatch privileges in DMM 707.28.3 to drop copies at the office of delivery using the paper’s transportation for “trade-area” offices that are critical to the success of readers and advertisers in the newspaper’s county and surrounding counties. That is one avenue for time-sensitive Periodicals not available to other classes of mail.
NNA is fighting hard to keep local-entry access and timely delivery alive in testimony filed Sept. 16 with the Postal Regulatory Commission in the post office closing review case. All newspapers in the country that are non-members of NNA should be begging to join to help preserve local access.
Unfortunately, distant subscribers could soon be a thing of the past, if all this comes to pass. While older subscribers who have moved away are loyal, they don’t always embrace the Web. But most newspapers are beginning to sell Web-based subscriptions. NNA’s effort since 2007 to get paid PDF facsimile subscriptions count on the postal Statement of Ownership, PS Form 3526, should be finalized in 2012.
What newspapers can do
First, go to nnaweb.org, then click on the article “U.S. Postal Service must make changes with community papers in mind,” and find the link to plant closings at the bottom of the article. If you are not a member, join us in this fight by finding the box to join NNA. We desperately need all the support we can get to engage Congress and get the best possible results for community newspapers.
Secondly, call your U.S. senators and representatives. Quickly! Let them know how severely you think these changes will affect delivery, and ask them to vote to approve returning both the $5.5 billion per year wrongly assessed USPS as well as the $7 billion proposed by Obama. Ask that USPS not be made a victim of the 2011 federal deficit fight, and risk destroying an important institution of commerce.
Thirdly, start moving more mail to Exceptional Dispatch DDU drops, or at least have plans to do so if the plant cuts proposed actually move forward (and the likelihood is high).
This blog post was used by permission of Publisher’s Auxiliary.