Regional hubs one of USPS cost-saving measures
Beacon mail carriers on Sept. 9 will begin driving to Newburgh to pick up mail from a regional sorting center near New York Stewart International Airport before traveling across the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge to deliver the letters and packages, according to the heads of two local unions that represent postal employees.
The U.S. Postal Service, however, has been mum on the change. Reached on Monday (July 31), Mark Lawrence, a Postal Service representative, would only reiterate a statement the agency made to The Current in March: It is moving forward with the creation of more than 400 regional Sorting & Delivery Centers nationwide, including at Stewart, as part of a 10-year cost-saving plan.
The locations of only 24 centers have been announced, including the one at Stewart. As of Sept. 9, the Stewart center will handle sorting for Beacon, as well as Newburgh, Cornwall, New Windsor and 10 other communities in Orange County. Sorting is scheduled to begin there for Fishkill in February 2024.
Changes in Cold Spring and Garrison have not been mentioned in any of the USPS plans released so far. Cold Spring carriers drive to Mohegan Lake to sort and pick up mail, although retail operations continue in the village.
The USPS says customers will see no changes to post office retail operations in Beacon. No post offices will close and post office box service will not change, it says. Kayla Weise, the postmaster in Beacon, said Tuesday that she could not comment.
The Sept. 9 changes will affect 115 local routes in the Mid-Hudson region, according to Steve Hutkins, a retired English professor in Rhinecliff who runs a national website called Save the Post Office and tracks the information released by the USPS. He said that because the average carrier route is 21 miles, and the average drive to a Sorting & Delivery Center is about 10 miles each way, the change will effectively double the length of routes.
“When tens of thousands of routes are relocated, it will add hundreds of millions of miles to the delivery network and essentially cancel out the environmental benefits of 65,000 new electric delivery trucks, paid for mostly by taxpayers,” Hutkins wrote on July 31.
The USPS says the changes are necessary to secure its financial future. The service, which is funded entirely by postage and fees, lost $2.5 billion in the first quarter of 2023, on operating revenue of $19.3 billion. Price hikes and reforms have reduced its potential losses over the next 10 years from $160 billion to $70 billion, according to Louis DeJoy, the U.S. postmaster general, but mail volume is expected to fall by 36 percent by 2030.
The lack of information about the reforms hasn’t sat well with elected officials in the Highlands. Rep. Pat Ryan, a Democrat whose district includes Beacon, sent a letter in June to DeJoy, asking him to reconsider the plan to consolidate — a change that Ryan said Highlands residents “emphatically oppose.”
“Mail carriers from my district are particularly concerned about the delays to service, added hours in commute time and the destabilizing effects this plan will have,” Ryan wrote, noting that, despite the agency’s claims, “we must reassure the public that they can trust their local post office will stay fully staffed and open for years to come.”
State Sen. Rob Rolison, a Republican whose district includes Beacon, and Michelle Hinchey, a Democrat who represents Columbia and Greene counties, Northern Dutchess and parts of Ulster County, sent DeJoy a similar letter last month challenging what they called a lack of transparency regarding savings the plan is supposed to generate.
“With fewer facilities and less staff, rural families will suffer,” the senators wrote. “Longer lines at remaining post offices, overworked staff and people who will need to travel farther for services is a burden that our residents, especially seniors, should not bear. We believe a study must be done first to determine what, if any, savings will occur and what services would be lost as a result.”
The heads of local postal unions concurred. Joe DeStefano, the president of the branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers that represents employees in eight Hudson Valley counties, said this week that Beacon postal carriers are concerned about driving 30-year-old delivery trucks, which are manufactured not to exceed 40 mph, across the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge every day.
“That is not a safe speed to be driving on [Interstate] 84,” DeStefano argued. “If I’m doing 60 mph between Newburgh and Beacon, I’ve got tractor trailers blowing past me.”
He and Diana Cline, the president of the Mid-Hudson chapter of the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), which represents retail employees, each said they are concerned that customer service will suffer. Although the retail employees’ union contract, which expires in September 2024, includes a no-layoffs clause, Cline said that senior, full-time employees will be “excessed” after the sorting switchover and offered positions at one of nine post offices within a 50-mile radius.
The Beacon post office, which has typically employed four full-time retail clerks plus a part-timer, is scheduled to be downsized to one full-time and one part-time clerk, she said. DeStefano called the Beacon location “one of the very quiet post offices” with few customer complaints, but Cline predicted that “new, non-career people” who are unfamiliar with the community would take the jobs as senior employees are phased out.
“They want to make this miserable for the [senior] people so they will retire rather than move,” she alleged. “It’s going to be clerks working without breaks or all day alone, and that is not what is supposed to happen.”
While Cline has been told that packages will be sorted by machine at the consolidated centers, “flats” such as periodicals and legal-sized envelopes will be sorted manually, but not necessarily by the carrier responsible for delivering them.
The Beacon post office usually receives between 40 and 100 inches of flats daily, she said.
Cline also questioned whether the Postal Service would have trouble attracting applicants for retail positions. The part-time position in Beacon has been vacant since March, she said.
Earlier this year, postal workers marched in front of congressional offices nationwide in protest of what the APWU called severe staffing shortages. The union’s president, Mark Dimondstein, attributed the shortage to poor treatment and training of new hires, resulting in high turnover.