By Julie Muhlstein Herald Writer
EVERETT — People in Northwest Washington are likely to keep getting next-day delivery of first-class mail even though the U.S. Postal Service is cutting jobs and making other changes at an Everett processing center.
Last year, the Postal Service said next-day delivery would be a casualty of a planned shutdown of the mail processing center at 8120 Hardeson Road. The agency has now decided to keep the Everett facility open, but not as the region’s processing center, which distributes mail from Lynnwood north to the Canadian border. It will also have fewer employees.
Although mail now processed in Everett will soon be trucked to Tukwila for distribution, Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson doesn’t expect delivery times to get longer. “They’re telling me it should not make any difference,” Swanson said last week.
A lawmaker who pushed to keep the Everett mail center open isn’t so sure about that. In late 2011, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a 2nd District Democrat, visited the Everett facility and wrote to the postmaster general urging that the Everett facility be kept open.
On Monday, Larsen’s communications director, Bryan Thomas, said the congressman is pleased the facility will stay open, but worries about timely delivery. “He is continuing to pressure Postal Service officials for an explanation as to how they plan to maintain efficient and timely mail service,” Thomas said.
One change sharp-eyed postal customers will note is the loss of the “Everett” cancellation mark. Mail shipped to Tukwila near Boeing Field will get a Seattle cancellation mark. The “Everett” mark will be “something of an endangered species,” Swanson said.
The change will come Feb. 23, Swanson said. Staff reductions at the facility have so far been through retirement incentives, not layoffs, he added.
“It’s not going to close, but there’s going to be a change,” Swanson said. “Raw mail — unpostmarked, uncanceled mail from around Northwest Washington — will be picked up and taken to Everett, then transported to Seattle to get the postmark.”
As the region’s processing center, the Everett facility handles about a million outgoing letters and parcels daily.
A year ago, when the Postal Service announced a likely closure of the Everett facility, Congress was hashing out a plan to shore up the agency’s finances. Swanson said U.S. Postal Service continues to operate deeply in the red, losing about $25 million per day.
Downsizing in Everett is expected to come largely through retirements. Workers have until today to sign up for early retirement, Swanson said. He didn’t know the exact number of workers currently at the Everett facility, or how many jobs will be lost.
Thomas, from Larsen’s office, said about 100 positions in Everett are expected to be lost to retirement, or to worker reassignment within 50 miles of Everett. A year ago, it was projected that 97 of the nearly 300 people working at the Everett facility would lose their jobs. Since 2006, Swanson said, the Postal Service has lost about 168,000 workers, about 24 percent of its former work force.
A Postal Service study had estimated the closure would save $11.6 million per year. Larsen doubted the study had taken into account the full cost of moving processing to Seattle.
As far as any new legislation to rescue the Postal Service, Thomas said previous proposals expired at the end of the 112th Congress and no new legislation has been introduced.
Leon Herrera of Arlington worked at the Hardeson Road mail center until last Aug. 31, when he accepted a retirement incentive.
“You had to be at least 55 years old and have 20 years minimum with the Postal Service,” Herrera said Monday. He said the incentive was $15,000. Herrera, 62, worked as a mail handler and was president of the National Postal Mail Handlers Union Local 316.
Herrera said he heard from a former co-worker that downsizing in Everett wouldn’t be completed until May or June.
“I’m doing just fine in my retirement,” Herrera said. He worked 38 years for the Postal Service, and over the years had “just about every job — clerk, carrier and mail handler.”
Herrera believes the Postal Service is making a mistake in moving the processing center south. “It doesn’t make sense,” he said, offering as an example San Juan Island mail that will be ferried and trucked to Tukwila and back. Island mail is now trucked and ferried to Everett.
He also thinks some former co-workers could be in for 50-mile drives to work. “People living in Burlington or Sedro-Woolley are not looking forward to having those commutes,” Herrera said.
Swanson said the agency’s dire financial situation is forcing change. There are about 450 processing centers nationwide. “About half are scheduled for some form of consolidation,” he said.
“Initially they had a list of 3,700 post offices across the country looking at closing altogether,” he said. That has changed to a plan calling for reduced hours at 13,100 post offices, none in Snohomish County. Swanson said most post offices affected in this state are in Eastern Washington.
“They have to make some hard decisions,” Swanson said. “It can’t be business as usual.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.