Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Beyond the Sun
Mail for Las Vegas residents who have moved and filed forwarding addresses will soon be trucked eight hours to Phoenix for additional processing and then returned here, under a new U.S. Postal Service cost-cutting plan that will delay mail delivery by a day or longer.
The tactic will add efficiency to the post office, at the expense of customers who are waiting for Social Security checks, prescription drugs and other critical mail. About 100,000 pieces of mail forwarded each week in the Las Vegas region will now be first processed in Phoenix.
The change comes as the Postal Service, which is losing $7 billion each year, closes its Central Forwarding System in Las Vegas to save an estimated $1.2 million a year.
It is more cost-effective to truck that mail to Phoenix, where postal workers have time on their hands, said David Rupert, a Denver-based postal spokesman for the Western states.
“That sounds like a long way away. But we run a 24-hour operation,” Rupert said.
When the Las Vegas forwarding center closes Oct. 23, the 20 employees who work there will bid on new job assignments.
They’re none too happy, and say mail will be delayed by two days or more.
“The people in D.C. are just trying to save money,” lamented one worker. “They have no idea what it will mean to get mail late in Nevada.”
Workers were notified in August that forwarding centers were being shuttered and employees reassigned not just in Las Vegas but in eight other Western cities as well. Forwarded mail for Spokane, Wash., will be sorted in Seattle, for instance; forwarded mail for Fargo, N.D., will be handled in Minneapolis; and forwarded mail for Reno will be sent off to Salt Lake City.
In Las Vegas, a historically transient town — and more so since the recession hit — 800,000 change-of-address cards are filled out each year.
Shipping mail to Phoenix will not be problematic, Rupert said.
“We’ve already got trucks going there,” he said. “And we have underutilized equipment and personnel in Phoenix. So this is just making the most of our operations.”
The Postal Service has got to find a way to cut costs, he said. In a world of e-mail and Twitter, the company is hemorrhaging money with less volume but still works under a congressional mandate to deliver six days a week. “We don’t have nearly the workload that goes through all those centers anymore,” he said.
Workers, declining to be quoted by name with their new job assignments up in the air, see it as a customer service issue.
“It’s going to be a big mess,” one said. “We’re worried about people’s medication, priority mail, Social Security checks, people’s bills, even Christmas cards and election mail.
“It will take eight hours to go down to Phoenix and another eight on the way back. Just think of all that mail going down to Phoenix. That’s not customer service at all.”
Another worker, with more than two decades of service, said the new jobs being offered involve overnight shifts and split days off. “They’re crappy jobs,” she said.
They pleaded their case in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office — which they said they hand-delivered to his Las Vegas office rather than risk it being delayed by the post office. Calling the Phoenix move a cost-cutting scheme, they urged Reid to keep Las Vegas mail in Las Vegas.
The letter sought a “full, public accounting of how the consolidation would affect our mail and our local economy,” and asked him to “oppose any consolidation plans that would reduce service for mail to be forwarded in our state.”
Reid’s office said it is monitoring the situation, and his spokesman, Jon Summers, said the senator “is pleased that no jobs will be lost as part of the realignment.”
But a social service advocate is concerned that a two-day delay in mail could harm people who move around a lot and depend on their mail being forwarded to their newest address.
Linda Lera-Randle El, who runs the Straight from the Streets project, said a delay of a day or two is significant for those who depend on speedy welfare support, payroll checks and prescription medicines. “That’s a lot of people,” she said.
“And it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to send it to Phoenix to send it back here. I don’t know whose bright idea that was. But someone’s cord isn’t plugged into the wall.”
Rupert, the postal official in Denver, said the consolidation is justified given what the Postal Service is up against. And he suggested that if someone is moving and worried about his mail taking longer, “change your address (with the sender) as quickly as possible. We encourage people to do that.”