End of an era

Mail posted in the Williamsport region now travels to Harrisburg before it reaches its final destination – even if that destination is just down the block.

The change began Saturday, and is the largest step taken so far towards shutting down the Williamsport mail processing facility at 2901 Reach Road.

Sorting operations there are scheduled to end on June 2.

All mail picked up in zip codes that begin with 169 and 177 – an area that stretches from Lock Haven to Unityville, and north to the New York state line – now goes first to the Harrisburg processing facility, nearly 88 miles from the Reach Road plant.

The U.S. Postal Service projects annual savings of $3,457,973 from the move, minus $160,680 in one-time moving costs.

A total of 34 full-time positions will be eliminated in Williamsport. Swing shift operations have ceased, though no workers have been let go yet.

“The final decision was announced in last February following meetings that were held in the fall with the public,” said Ray Daiutolo Sr., regional spokesman for the USPS.

May 15, 2012 was initially announced as the Reach Road facility’s closing date.

“They’ve announced several times before only to move the date We collect (the mail) but instead of sorting it into separate zip codes they send it out to another processing facility,” said Jared Bower, president of Branch 50 of the National Association of Letter Carriers. “There’s no priority mail at that facility – that processing is done somewhere else.”

“They took our first class parcels a couple weeks ago,” said Steve Lunger, president of the local American Postal Workers union. “We were told they were supposed to go to Philadelphia, and then got a call from there that they go to Harrisburg.”

“There are nine people taking retirement that belong to my union (this week),” Lunger said. “They’ve held us on our current hours until they make adjustments on our schedule because they do not have what they call landing spots for our people who were impacted.”

The Reach Road facility will stay open for customer services beyond June 2.

The Williamsport processing plant is not the only one in Pennsylvania subject to consolidation. Harrisburg’s center is now processing mail that once went to centers in Lancaster and Reading, Scranton mail now goes to the Lehigh Valley, and Altoona mail goes to Johnstown.

The closings are all part of a plan to close over half of the 487 USPS processing plants over the next few years.

The USPS had a 5-percent drop in pieces processed nationwide from 2009 to 2011 and sustained an operating loss of $5.067 billion in 2011.

Opponents of the consolidation plan blame much of the Postal Service’s current troubles on the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which required the USPS to set aside enough money each year to prefund its pensions for a period of 75 years.

The USPS missed its 2012 payment of about $5.5 billion.

Prefunding is not a requirement for other governmental agencies.

“That’s the toughest pill to swallow,” Bower said. “They want us to fund a retirement account for health care for people who they haven’t even hired yet you put any business five and a half billion in the hole and it’s tough to climb out.”