Signed, sealed gone?

February 08, 2013 01:41 pm

Postal Carrier Mark Schlegel makes his rounds Thursday afternoon in La Grande. Those rounds will come to an end for home letter delivery on Saturdays beginning in August. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
Postal Carrier Mark Schlegel makes his rounds Thursday afternoon in La Grande. Those rounds will come to an end for home letter delivery on Saturdays beginning in August. CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer


USPS decision won’t have huge impact locally, according to some 

The U.S. Postal Service’s recently announced plan to change its delivery schedule in August isn’t causing much fuss in La Grande, though it has stirred up some questions about the service’s fiscal problems, the well-being of seniors who get their medications by mail and effects on Oregon’s vote-by-mail system. 

USPS says the change, cutting home mail delivery to five days a week but maintaining six-day package delivery, will save $2 billion a year. Mail delivery to post office boxes will also continue on a six-day-a-week basis. A postal service spokesman said the change won’t cause much disruption.

Dave Campbell, owner of the Hobby Habit on Fir Street, said the proposed elimination of Saturday mail service is a little disappointing for him, but  added it won’t have much impact on his business even though he keeps Saturday hours.

“We don’t bill people and we don’t get checks in the mail, so it doesn’t make any difference. As far as no mail on Saturday goes, the world doesn’t end,” Campbell said. “Do I want to see it go? No. But I’m not saying, ‘Oh my God, this is horrible.’”

While his feelings about the proposed change aren’t particularly strong, Campbell said he wonders why the postal service is planning to cut Saturday letter delivery, while continuing with package delivery.

“If you’re going to deliver the packages, why not just deliver the letters too?” he said.

Campbell said that for many years, he and his family have received their personal mail at the post office. The main reason for that, he said, was that he and his wife didn’t want their young children crossing the road to the mailbox. The kids are grown now, and the Campbells are switching to home delivery. 

“We won’t have to make that trip to town to get the mail, and we also won’t have to pay the fee for the box. You have to pay for a box but get rural delivery free? I don’t get that,” he said. He added that the cutback in Saturday letter delivery isn’t much of an inconvenience as far as his family is concerned.

Campbell said he believes the floundering postal service should get more help and support from Congress. Recalling that the federal government used defense funds to build the interstate highway system in the 1950s, he said he thinks Congress should find a way to appropriate money for the postal service.

There’s a limit, he said, to what the service should do away with.

“What will bother me is if they decide to cut two days, or three days,” he said.

La Grande resident Lewis Batty said he thinks the postal service should be looking at ways to save money besides cutting back service. Batty said he has a friend who receives a military pension and works for the post office. When the friend retires from postal work, he’ll get a 40-year postal service pension. 

Batty thinks postal retirees should get 20-year pensions instead.

“The post office is the only one with a 40-year pension. Congress could take care of it in a hurry,” he said.

Batty’s mail is delivered to his home. He is being treated for a heart condition and until recently received his medications through the mail. He said he switched to UPS delivery following an incident where a crucial medication didn’t arrive in time. 

“It took two weeks to ship from Salt Lake City to here. The Pony Express was faster than that,” Batty said.

With medications coming by UPS, Batty and his wife, Ruthann, both said the postal service’s planned new schedule won’t have much other effect on their daily lives. Ruthann, a former postal employee, said she is more concerned about impacts on postal workers’ paychecks.

“I know cuts have to be made, but there still needs to be jobs,” she said.

Peter Haas, a Phoenix, Ariz., based spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said seniors who do get their medications by mail won’t be affected by the cutback in service, since package delivery will continue six days a week. Haas also talked a little about possible reductions in the labor force, but said it’s too early to tell what they might look like.

“I’m sure there will be job impacts in Oregon, but it’s yet to be determined,” Haas said. “I can tell you that in the last 10 years we’ve reduced the work force by 193,000, and we’ve done all of it through attrition. That’s our continued intent.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., issued a statement that said some issues must be looked at closely before the postal service implements the change. High on his list of concerns is impact on Oregon’s vote-by-mail system.

“Before the postal service ends Saturday delivery, it must first consider the impacts on one of our fundamental rights — the right to vote,” Wyden said. “As a vote-by-mail state, a fully functioning postal service remains at the core of Oregon’s democratic process and it must be protected.”

Wyden said he thinks it’s also important to look at the possible impacts on rural communities, especially for people who rely on the mail for their prescriptions. Until concerns like these are resolved, it would be quite troubling to see this kind of change in service, he said.

Union County Clerk Robin Church said Friday that the change in Saturday delivery was discussed at a meeting of county clerks this week in Salem. Currently, ballots are mailed on a Friday. Church said a solution proposed at the conference is to mail the ballots Wednesday instead.

“That will give voters the same amount of time to fill out their ballots,” Church said.

Church said she doesn’t believe the proposal will have trouble passing muster at the state’s capital.

“I don’t see any reason they’d oppose that,” she said.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said this week that Walden generally supports the proposed reduction in service. It’s one step the postal service can take to alleviate big financial problems.

“The postal service is racking up multi-million dollar deficits every year, and that’s unsustainable,” said Andrew Malcolm, Walden’s press secretary. “Greg believes this is a better option for Eastern Oregon than closing post offices.”

Malcolm provided some figures detailing the postal service’s economic woes. He said first class mail, the service’s most profitable sector, is down 25 percent from 2001, and is projected to decline another 50 percent by 2020. In 2011 alone, mail volume fell by six percent. 

Malcolm said 90 percent of mail is commerce-related, so as technology like email and online banking increases productivity, paper mail volume declines. He said Walden wants Congress to work together to help the service find lasting solutions.

“He believes the Congress should work on a bipartisan basis to give the postal service the tools they need to compete in the 21st century, and provide service for all Oregonians, especially those in the rural areas,” Malcolm said.