Postal Service employees in the Tri-Cities have been told they will be losing 47 jobs -- not two -- when mail sorting moves from Pasco to Spokane.
A local union representative said Friday that 47 jobs at the Pasco Processing & Distribution Center on Court Street will be considered excess when it closes June 30.
Last month, the U.S. Postal Service announced that the Tri-City mail handling facility is among 223 scheduled to close nationwide, but officials said only two jobs would be cut in Pasco.
However, John Michael Wald, president of the local American Postal Workers Union, said he was told this week by senior Postal Service management in Seattle and Spokane that 47 of the 65 positions no longer would exist after June 30.
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Ernie Swanson, a Postal Service spokesman, said Friday that he could not confirm the information about the number of Tri-City employees affected or the closure date.
This past fall, the agency began to consider closing 252 of the nation's 487 mail handling facilities. The national savings has been estimated at $2.6 billion, according to the Postal Service website.
The Pasco closure is expected to save the Postal Service about $800,000 a year.
Nationwide, the agency intends to lower delivery standards for first-class mail, which will eliminate the chance for stamped letters to arrive the next day. First-class mail now delivered overnight in the Tri-Cities likely will take two days to arrive.
Fred Silva, a clerk at the Pasco mail center, said he expects to be affected by the cuts. Everyone will be affected, even those who keep their jobs, Silva said.
"There goes my job," said Silva, who lives in Prosser but has worked at the Pasco center for 17 years.
Silva, a single father, said he doesn't want to uproot his family. Two of his daughters, 14 and 16, attend Prosser High School and are active in sports.
Silva coaches his 16-year-old daughter's fast-pitch team. He shares custody of his 2-year-old daughter with her mother.
Affected employees will receive a letter in the mail informing them that their job is considered excess, Wald said. He said he was told the letters would be sent within the next two weeks.
Union contracts don't allow the Postal Service to just lay off the 47 people whose jobs will be going away, Wald said. They can be moved to jobs within a 50-mile radius, but "there are not vacant jobs for these folks to go to," he said.
There are only two vacant positions Wald said he knows of at the Pasco post office at 3500 W. Court St., which will remain open when the mail handling center closes.
Wald said he is concerned that will mean employees will be paid to sit in a room for eight hours a day five days a week because of the lack of local work.
Wald said he expects the Postal Service is hoping employees will choose to transfer to Spokane, which is about three times as far as the Postal Service can require workers to move.
About 30 workers may be able to land jobs at the expanding Spokane handling center, he said, although some affected employees are nearing retirement.
For the 13 mail handlers at the Pasco facility represented by the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, the area where they can be moved to was expanded to a 150-mile radius this week.
That means they could be required to move to Spokane, said Richard Powell of Pasco, a mail handler.
Postal Service officials have mentioned restructuring retirement and health plans for workers, and there have been no incentives offered for early retirement, Walk said.
"It seems like all of the rules are being changed in the middle of the game," he said.
Nationwide, first-class mail volumes have dropped by 25 percent, and the self-supported agency funds its operations from the sale of postage, products and services.
However, mail volume in Pasco is down just 4 percent, Wald said.
Employees say the federal mandate for the Postal Service to prefund 75 years of future retirees' health care benefits is the leading cause of the agency's budget woes.
Each year, the agency has borrowed money from the federal government to meet required payments, but recently, it hit its debt limit.
Congress would need to relieve the Postal Service of the mandate to prefund retirees' health care benefit and refund some of the mandated overpayment, Wald said. That would give the agency the operating capital it needs for day-to-day operations, he said.
But he doesn't hold out much hope that will happen before Pasco's mail moves to Spokane.
And while some downsizing may be needed nationwide, Pasco isn't where it should be done, Powell said, because the Tri-Cities is growing.