July 16, 2009

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if logic was a requirement in school? Sure, Spock was always my favorite Star Trek character, but right now I wish someone in the post office would do a bit of sound reasoning so we can all live long and prosper.

In difficult economic times such as these many businesses are being forced to make budget cuts, often resulting in layoffs. The United States Postal Service has been dealing with declining mail count for years, so the recession is simply compounding these problems to the tune of a drop off of more than 9 billion fewer pieces mailed last year.

The USPS is currently conducting roughly 30 Area Mail Processing (AMP) studies of postal processing centers across the nation to determine if they can be consolidated. One of those sites currently being reviewed is Quincy, IL.

ďThe reality is we have an excess of equipment, staff and facilities to process a declining volume of mail,Ē said Loretta Toliver USPS customer relations manager in St. Louis. ďConsolidating some postal operations only makes logical business sense given the economic realities. It would be fiscally irresponsible not to do so.Ē

I understand that if there isnít enough business to make a profit, a business must make cuts. One of the fastest ways for a company to cut costs is reduce payroll. But after meeting with representatives of the postal service in Quincy on Thursday, that doesnít appear to be an option under the USPS unionís current contract.

Another option is to liquidate assets. Iím not sure if that is a consideration here, but one has to wonder if the USPS isnít looking at moving all of the Quincy Center on to Springfield, IL, for a complete consolidation. That would allow the company to sell its Quincy facility.

I guess that building must be worth a ton, because thatís the only logical explanation for a plan that calls for shipping mail addressed to 11 counties in northeast Missouri and similar numbers in southeastern Iowa and western Illinois an additional 108 miles, one-way to be sorted. Then the mail would be loaded back up and travel that 108 miles back to Quincy before being distributed to the satellite post offices across this region.

Apparently the Springfield, IL, center is being under utilized. Someone, somewhere has discovered this and devised a proposal to transfer at least a portion of Quincyís workload to this center to better utilize its workforce. According to postal union officials, the mail likely wonít be the only thing making the four and a half hour commute, as the workers at the Quincy plant likely will have to transfer to some other facility or risk losing their job.

As we all know, there are just 24 hours in the day. If you consume 4.5 hours driving the mail further away from where it needs to be delivered, obviously this is going to impact its delivery, likely pushing the service back an additional day at least thanks to the added commute.

Iím not sure what the Springfield facility is like, but I know that the Quincy sorting center is considered state of the art, and is less than 10 years old. It also sits a whopping two stop signs away from immediate access to the interstate. Sounds like a pretty choice location.

Iím going to go out on a limb here, tossing out a logical alternative to the USPS. If the Springfield center is under utilized, why not look at transferring some of its workforce to other facilities. It sounds like it is the center that should be undergoing the AMP study.

Since the bulk of my newspapers were rerouted from St. Louis to the Quincy, IL, sorting center I have seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of service.

The USPS states the goal of an AMP is to increase efficiency and improve productivity to allow for the continuation of universal service at a reasonable cost. Whatís missing from this mission statement is service. If the USPS consolidates the Quincy center, Scotland County and dozens of other counties have to question what impact this will have on our service.

As a newspaper, I depend upon the postal service to reach more than 1,500 readers each week. No one wants to read old news. Bottom line is this move is going to effect my bottom line. If thatís the case, it is going to hurt the USPS profit margin as well, because if I lose subscribers, they lose those mail pieces too. Getting your paper a day or two later is a hassle, but how about your prescription medicine or that overdraft notice from the bank?

If you agree that the Quincy, IL, Processing and Distribution Annex is worth fighting for, please offer your input to Consumer Affairs Manager at 1720 Market St. Room 1015, St. Louis, MO 63155-9631. (Good business logic here, they donít offer a telephone contact or an e-mail address at which to offer input).

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