New postal plan far-reachingClosures staved off, but now 222 SD sites face reduced hours.
By: Chris Huber, The Daily Republic
While many rural post offices appear to have avoided closure, thousands more nationwide would have their hours reduced under a new Post Service proposal.
Instead of closing 3,700 rural post offices nationally, the Postal Service rolled out a plan Wednesday that would cut hours for about 13,000 offices.
Under the plan, 222 South Dakota post offices would have their hours reduced, including 47 within The Daily Republic’s 17-county print circulation area. The closure proposal had included only 10 post offices within the area.
The new proposal includes cutting hours from some of the larger small towns in the area, including Armour, Alexandria, Mount Vernon, Kimball and Plankinton.
Under the proposal, hours would be slashed by two, four or six per day.
Regional Postal Service spokesman Pete Nowacki, of Minneapolis, said a number of factors were examined when deciding which post offices to recommend for reduced hours.
“We looked at revenue, walk-in traffic and population, just to name a few,” he said.
The Postal Service ultimately decided to propose an hours reduction plan instead of a closure plan because the hours plan would save more money.
“Under the closure proposal, we were looking at about a savings of $200 million annually; with the reduction in hours proposal, we would save about $500 million,” he said, referring to the Postal Service as a whole.
According to Paul Turnbull, manager of post office operations in the area, the Postal Service had an $8 billion deficit last year, on top of defaulting on a $5.5 billion payment it must make to fund health care for its retirees.
It’s projected the Postal Service will be losing $20 billion by the year 2020 if corrective action is not taken.
Community meetings will be scheduled in the near future to determine what hours of the day the affected post offices would be open.
“That is something we are going to deal with on a case-by-case basis,” Nowacki said. “In the end, we want to be able to meet the needs of each community as best as we can.”
Those communities will be notified of the date, time and location of the meetings.
As for possibly closing some offices in the future, Nowacki didn’t rule it out but said it is unlikely under the plan.
“You can never say never when it comes to closure,” he said. “But as a cost-saving measure, I don’t think that will be looked at in the immediate future.”
Employees at the post offices on the hours-reduction list would have their work hours reduced. For example, if a postmaster currently works a 40-hour week at eight hours per day and the postmaster’s retail location is reduced to four hours a day, the postmaster would be reduced to a 20-hour workweek.
Reduction in hours would not take place until at least after Labor Day of this year, and it wouldn’t be until September 2014 that all of the post offices on the list would have their hours reduced.
Numerous post offices employees in the area said they are not authorized to speak about the subject and directed The Daily Republic to Postal Service media relations personnel.
Nowacki said the Postal Service is offering an early retirement package to affected full-time employees and will replace those who take it with part-time employees to cover the reduced hours.
The package includes a $20,000 buyout, half of which would be paid in December of this year and the other half in December 2013.
Employees offered the buyout have until June 22 to either accept or reject it.
Nowacki said it is unclear at this time if an employee’s acceptance of a buyout will speed up the reduction in hours for a specific location.
It is also unclear if employees would retain their benefits once hours are reduced to part-time.
Gene Gaspar has been with the Postal Service for 32 years and is the postmaster in Alexandria. At 60 years old, Gaspar said he is strongly considering the buyout.
“I just never thought it would come to this,” he said.
He said the largest effect a reduction of hours would have on the people of Alexandria would be getting to the post office in time to mail a package.
“I know a lot of people who work in Mitchell but live here, and they might find it hard to get to the post office once they get back from work,” Gaspar said.
Gaspar said filling a part-time position at the Alexandria Post Office might be difficult.
“You have to find someone who just wants to work a few hours a day.”
He suggested the post office should split the time it is open — three hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon, for example.