Letters travel along a large conveyor belt at a Chicago post office in December. The Postal Service has finalized a list of mail distribution center closures. (Brian Kersey / Getty Images)
The U.S. Postal Service plans to slash the size of its mail processing network by almost half, with a projected loss of 35,000 jobs, officials announced Thursday.
Of 264 plants http://tinyurl.com/7txb58x">on a closing review list, 223 will be "consolidated — all or in part," while 35 will remain open for now, the Postal Service said on its website. Another half-dozen possible closings are on hold pending more study, according to the agency.
The downsizing is expected to eliminate 30,000 full-time jobs and 5,000 non-career positions, USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said in an email. The projected loss of 35,000 jobs is higher than the 28,000 figure cited by a top postal executive in December.
For career employees with union representation, the Postal Service will follow "excessing" procedures by seeking to find work for them elsewhere, Saunders said. Other career staff will be subject to a reduction-in-force.
The Postal Service could also offer voluntary early retirement incentives, but is still working with unions and organizations representing postal managers on that option, Saunders said.
The agency began notifying employees in affected plants late Wednesday and will continue that process Thursday, another spokeswoman, Sue Brennan, said. While the Postal Service — in response to congressional pressure — has a freeze on closings of all plants and post offices until May 15, "right now, the plan is to move forward after the moratorium ends," she said, with the goal of completing the downsizing within 12 to 18 months.
The Postal Service announced the "network optimization" move in August as part of a cost-cutting drive intended to save more than $2 billion a year.
Although USPS officials had said last year that 252 plants were under review for closing, another eight studies were already underway and four more were begun after August to bring the total to 264, the agency said Thursday. The Postal Service currently has a total of 461 plants.
The planned downsizing includes scrapping the Postal Service's next-day delivery standard for first-class mail.
In a statement posted on its website, the National Postal Mail Handlers Union, which represents many processing plant workers, said that some facilities could gain work as others close.
"All of these actions are subject to the collective bargaining agreement, and could be changed by intervening legislative developments," the union said. The union has also discussed "possible incentives for downsizing," the statement said, although it has not yet reached an agreement with the Postal Service.