Mail sorting moving to Missoula

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Lance Arave of Evergreen removes letters from the sorting machine on Dec. 15, 2010, at the Meridian Road Post Office in Kalispell. Sorting operations are being shifted to Missoula by the U.S. Postal Service.

Kalispell’s Meridian Road mail processing operations will be closed and moved down to Missoula by next March, the U.S. Postal Service said Wednesday.

The consolidation is expected to save the financially struggling Postal Service about $580,000 a year and should have little to no impact on customer services, according to spokesman Pete Nowacki.

It’s one small part of a much larger plan to eventually close and consolidate about half of the Postal Service’s mail processing centers around the country.

Other cost-saving measures still being considered by the Postal Service would close thousands of post offices and reduce window hours at others and possibly even end Saturday mail delivery.

“Because of mail volume declines, we have more mail processing facilities and equipment than we need to do the job. We’re trying to consolidate, become leaner and find a way to realize some savings,” Nowacki said of the mail sorting consolidations.

Nowacki said the Kalispell consolidation will have no impact on the overnight delivery of local first-class mail and that it only affects mail processing, not any retail postal services in Kalispell.

“Overnight local [delivery] will continue at this time. We can take that from Kalispell to Missoula, process it and have it back the next day,” Nowacki said.

The consolidation will result in eight fewer mail processing jobs in Kalispell and Missoula. The hope is to meet those cuts through job transfers and attrition.

“We will work with unions and individuals who will be impacted and try to find a place for everyone,” Nowacki said.

“Since 2000, we’ve cut about 240,000 positions nationwide and we’ve managed to so far do that without layoffs. That’s always the intention going into a situation like this. There are all sorts of different ways to work that and we hope to do that here as well.”

The Postal Service initially proposed to consolidate Kalispell and Missoula sorting operations in Spokane, but eventually decided against that option.

The consolidation won’t start to take effect until next year to keep up with high demand for mail services this election cycle and during the holiday season, Nowacki said.

Ray Lobello, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 683 in Kalispell, said the consolidation’s impact still is unclear, with many details that are still not known.

“We’re kind of in limbo,” he said. “We’re just going to have to wait and see what happens and what they come up with.”

Lobello and others continue to hope that Congress will pass legislation to reform the Postal Service, which posted a net loss of $5.2 billion in the third quarter and an $11.6 billion net loss so far this year.

Contributing significantly to those heavy losses is a congressional mandate that the Postal Service pre-fund 75 years of future retiree benefits. With limited cash resources, the Postal Service defaulted on a $5.5 billion payment in August and expects to default on a $5.5 billion payment Sept. 30.

While digital technologies and other trends have taken a big bite out of mail volumes, Lobello said the Postal Service still has a viable business and work to do.

“Congress has to help us provide that service,” he said.

Reporter Tom Lotshaw may be reached at 758-4483 or by email at tlotshaw@dailyinterlake.com.

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