After what appeared to be a reprieve until sometime in 2014, the U.S. Postal Service now says the Pasco mail handling facility will close by the end of this year.
Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson said employees at the facility were told this week that their jobs in Pasco will end.
"This is largely because of the continued declines in mail volume," Swanson told the Herald. "That results in less revenue. We're losing $25 million per day."
A letter sent Tuesday to the American Postal Workers Union said the Postal Service "continues to face one of the most difficult challenges in its history. The current economic downturn and continued internet diversion has led to historically large deficits. As a result, the Postal Service is not receiving enough revenue to sustain the cost of its processing and delivery network."
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Closure of the Pasco facility is expected to save the Postal Service about $800,000 a year and eliminate 47 jobs.
Pasco is one of 71 mail processing plants facing possible consolidation in 2014 and has been placed on an accelerated list, a union news release said. In Oregon, that includes mail centers in Pendleton and Bend.
Cliff Guffey, APWU's national president, described the move in a statement as a "tragic mistake."
"These closures will eliminate jobs, harm communities and delay mail delivery every day -- Monday through Saturday," Guffey said.
The Postal Service has been working for a couple of years on a plan to consolidate mail handling facilities across the country to save money. Pasco's mail handling will move to Spokane.
Plans to close the facility have been in the works since early 2012, when the Postal Service announced that Pasco's Processing & Distribution Center on Court Street would be one of 223 mail handling facilities to close.
At one point, the Pasco facility was set to close in mid-2012. That was extended to February 2013, then again to 2014.
"Locally that means 47 full-time career federal employees will not have a job to do anymore," said John Michael Wald, president of APWU Tri-Cities Area Local 2293. "We don't know what that means in terms of what will happen to them."
Wald said about a third of the Pasco facility's employees already have left because they feared being laid off.
"We have had people transfer as far as Eastern Montana," Wald told the Herald. "Now with this latest revelation I can't imagine more people aren't going to feel an urgency to transfer somewhere else."
That's left fewer people to sort mail, which means the Postal Service is paying them overtime to work 50- or 60-hour weeks, Wald said.
"Which is silly from a Postal Service perspective because they're now spending more money for the same amount of work," he said.
Union advocates have laid much of the blame for the Postal Service's financial woes at the feet of a 2006 law that requires the service to pay $5.5 billion each year into a fund that's supposed to cover health care benefits for future Postal Service retirees -- as far as 75 years into the future. The service has had to borrow money to pay into the fund, but has hit its debt limit.
Guffey's statement said Congress could take action to fix the problem.
"These closures could have been avoided entirely," he said. "They are a casualty of congressional inaction. Congress must act now to enact meaningful postal reform -- reform that restores the Postal Service to financial stability without destroying the service or harming postal workers. And Congress must act now to prevent the Postal Service from implementing these devastating cuts in service."
Swanson said that the service will be able to cut costs sooner by closing facilities early.
"We will realize those savings sooner than we would," he said.