WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. (AP) — Members of Vermont's congressional delegation and dozens of irate postal workers and local residents Wednesday criticized plans by the U.S. Postal Service to close Vermont's largest postal sorting center, a move they say would dramatically slow mail delivery across the state.
Speaking before nearly 500 people at an American Legion hall, Gov. Pete Shumlin criticized what he called "the sheer idiocy" of shutting down the Vermont facility.
"It's critical, as we crawl out of the worst recession in history, that we have a postal service that delivers mail when we send it, not 3 or 4 days after we send it," Shumlin said, receiving a standing ovation.
The struggling postal service said in early December that it was moving forward with plans to close 3,700 local post offices and 252 mail processing centers, including the one in White River Junction, which serves Vermont and a large section of northwestern New Hampshire. There are 487 mail processing plants and just under 32,000 post offices nationwide.
Deborah Essler, a postal service district manager who oversees sorting facilities in northern New England, said plans to reduce the post office's "service standard" — which would slow first-class mail service, ending next-day deliveries of stamped letters — would make operations more efficient.
Her remarks were greeted with catcalls.
"Not efficient!" and "That's propaganda!" yelled some postal workers.
Essler said email and competition from businesses have left the postal service with no choice but to cut costs. "More and more people are using electronic means to communicate and pay their bills," she said.
Even if the economy were suddenly to improve, Essler said, she doubted whether first class mail volume would ever recover to past levels. Recent gains in advertising mailings and package shipments have not come close to making up the overall revenue loss, Essler said.
The closures could cost 100,000 postal employees their jobs nationwide, including 185 in White River Junction, who will be offered jobs elsewhere.
The postal service is considering moving the mail processing in White River Junction to plants in Essex Junction and Manchester, N.H.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders said it was "patently insane" to consider "throwing 100,000 Americans out of work. ...There are better solutions than cut, cut, cut."
Sanders said most people use email and know that there must be changes in the postal service, but he added, "There are business models available to grow the postal service."
Saying that reducing the speed and frequency of mail delivery would be the beginning of "a death spiral," he vowed to make finding ways to relieve the immediate financial squeeze on the postal service his priority when he returns to Washington.
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy noted that the postal service is the only business of any kind mentioned by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution. "It is part of America. Let's not forget that," he said.
Liz Blum of Norwich said the postal service is especially important to a rural state like Vermont, which has a large elderly population. Those people tend not to be computer savvy, she said.
Blum said plans to close and consolidate mail processing centers across the country are "an undisguised effort to destroy our postal service, which was guaranteed to us in the Constitution, and to privatize it."