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Closings and Delays

Kalamazoo Mail Plant To Close, Expect More Delays

The mail processing plant on 9th Street in Oshtemo Township
Rebecca Thiele, WMUK

You might have noticed that your letters and bills aren’t reaching their destinations as fast as they used to. That’s because the United States Postal Service changed its delivery standards in January. It now takes two days for an average First Class letter to arrive instead of one.

In another cost-cutting move, USPS plans to close 82 mail processing plants by the end of this year—including the one in Oshtemo Township.

Rod Holcomb of Kalamazoo maintains the machines that sort the mail at the plant. Holcomb came to the Oshtemo Township plant seven years ago after getting laid off at Upjohn. When the postal factory shuts down on April 18th, he’ll have to look for work again.

Holcomb says he's applied for several jobs in the area, but hasn't gotten any bites.

“I think because of my age I’m not getting many responses, which I think I would when I was younger. Because you know with 25, 30 years’ experience usually they would take you," he says. "And now with my 40 years of experience you’d think that with a great background, good work history…I’m not getting any responses. So I’m not going to have a job.”

To be clear, USPS has offered Holcomb and more than 150 of his co-workers positions at other facilities in the state. But unless Holcomb was willing to commute, he’d likely have to move. The nearest plant is in Grand Rapids. That’s the one that will sort all of Kalamazoo’s mail starting in mid-April.

The U.S. Postal Service says people are mailing half as many First Class letters, bills, and cards as they did 10 years ago. But while people are sending fewer letters, USPS says they’re receiving a lot more packages than they used to.

USPS Greater Michigan District spokesperson Sabrina Todd says packages are moving as fast as they always have—that’s because they’re not shipped First Class.

“Packages as far as Priority Mail packages, those aren’t affected. A lot of people’s medications are delivered via Priority Mail. Those will not be affected as far as the delivery standards that took change, ok?”

But that’s not the case for small businesses owner Kori Jock of La Vie En Orange in Kalamazoo. She makes underwear out of recycled t-shirts and sends most of them out via First Class.

“Underwear is small, it’s light. So it doesn’t make sense to charge twice as much just so something can go out Priority Mail,” she says.

Jock says she’s had great luck with the post office in the past, but lately items haven’t been getting to customers as quickly. Jock says she feels there’s nothing she can do about that; the post office is still her most cost effective option.

“Maybe instead of two days, something takes three days to get to Texas. But again it’s not…I think that’s kind of what you expect from First Class,” she says.  

Innovations like e-mail and social media have left the US Postal Service strapped for cash for some time -but so has a law Congress passed in 2006. The post office now has to pay retiree health benefits in advance—which almost no company or agency does. It’s forced USPS to come up with another $5.5 billon a year. 

“The postal service really is not doing as bad as they say, if it weren’t for that mandate," says Linda Sarratt, president of the Southwest Michigan local of the American Postal Workers Union.

"And with gas prices the way they are right now, think about it—they’re saving almost two dollars a gallon right now. So you know they’ve got to be making money again. So this was all kind of manufactured.” 

To stay within its budget, USPS is slowing down service and closing processing plants. By 2017, it expects to save about $20 billion. Sarratt says she knows USPS is in trouble, but five years ago the agency made a promise not to change service standards.

“If you’re losing business, you don’t take away the service,” Sarratt says.

But even cuts in service won’t fix everything. USPS says it’s in a tight spot. Unlike other agencies, it isn’t funded by the government but still has to follow Congress’s rules.

In an e-mail statement, USPS says something has to change in its relationship with lawmakers or the postal system that started about 200 years ago could be on its way out.

U.S. House Resolution 54 would bring back the 2012 service standards. You can follow that bill here.