People pick up mail at the Post Office in Snohomish on Jan. 12, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

People pick up mail at the Post Office in Snohomish on Jan. 12, 2022. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

USPS mum on plan to merge rural mail delivery hubs in Snohomish County

Small cities could soon see their mail delivered from Everett, workers say. The Postal Service declined to comment directly.

EVERETT — Postal workers in Snohomish, Granite Falls and Marysville say they’ve been told their post offices will soon no longer serve as delivery hubs and will only offer retail services.

Mail distribution would be run out of Everett, according to a source within the U.S. Postal Service’s Seattle District Regional Post Office.

The postal worker, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid retaliation, told The Daily Herald, “all mail delivery for these cities would come from” Everett and that employees have been told this news, but not the public. The source provided a USPS identification to The Herald.

Kurt Eckrem, Washington president of the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, confirmed he had heard about the impending changes from carriers and others in the union.

“There’s a lot of rumors going around,” Eckrem said.

Reached for comment, a U.S. Postal Service spokesperson neither confirmed nor denied the changes were taking place in Snohomish County.

Asked if post offices were set to be closed in favor of a new “Sorting and Delivery Center” — a new regional home base for carriers and mail sorting — U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Kim Frum responded in an email:

“We will continue to evaluate additional potential S&DC sites based on these criteria and further configuration of the new network. As we move forward with this initiative, customers will see no changes to their local Post Office retail operations. No Post Offices will be closed, and PO Box service will not be changed.”

In an emailed statement, Frum highlighted the above responses in yellow, saying they were the answer to the reporter’s questions. Asked to clarify if the Postal Service was looking at Everett for a Sorting and Delivery Center, Frum sent the same message.

“We will continue to evaluate additional potential S&DC sites based on these criteria and further configuration of the new network,” Frum wrote.

Even if the changes go through, customers may not see any immediate differences in how the post offices operate. People could still buy stamps, mail letters and keep a PO Box.

But through a process called “decoupling” the Postal Service would pull apart retail and delivery options, meaning some post offices could see slower delivery times. Fewer rural mail carriers may be willing to commute farther to a big delivery hub — when residents in rural Snohomish County have complained about delivery issues for years.

A spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene said: “Don’t have anything to share here,” when asked about any impending changes to local post offices.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen’s office had no information to provide, either.

This kind of national consolidation has been thrown around since at least 2011 and picked up steam over the past few years.

Several of these sites will be opened this spring including in Gainesville, Florida; Panama City, Florida; Woburn, Massachusetts; Utica, New York; and Bryan, Texas. One of these is now operational in Pasco, Washington, serving the Tri-Cities area.

The impact to mail delivery and retail service is unknown.

Critics and those who follow the postal service closely are not convinced this change will improve the mail system or customer experience. One of those people is Steve Hutkins, a retired English professor and expert on the Postal Service. He also runs the site SaveThePostOffice.com.

Hutkins started the site in 2011 and has been interviewed by the New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today and other national publications. On the site, Hutkins has a deep archive of documents and analysis of Postal Service work.

“My concern, because I’m always focused on brick-and-mortar post offices, is that when you take the carriers away, you empty out more than half the building,” Hutkins said. “This is going to lead to opportunities to close the post office or relocate the post office to a much smaller, retain-only space. It’s a threat to post offices.”

Job losses are big on Hutkin’s mind. U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said the Postal Service “may need to get 50,000 people out of the organization” during a forum in late July 2022. He went on to say those jobs would be lost through retirement.

“Already at the post offices where they have removed carriers, not only have the carriers left, but some of the clerks who work in the windows are also leaving because part of their job was helping carriers,” Hutkins said. “When there’s no carriers, they don’t need as many clerks in the office.”

Postal carriers and clerks — along with other postal support positions — have two separate unions through the AFL-CIO. The American Postal Workers Union covers clerks and support staff. The union has a clause protecting against “layoffs or reduction in force” in its collective bargaining agreement with the Postal Service.

Hutkins explained if job reductions do happen, the Postal Service is required to provide a list of other jobs in the area. The problem is, if a sorting and delivery center goes into place, all the other clerk positions in the area could be on the chopping block as well.

An employee is unlikely to find a job locally in that situation.

“Where are you going to find another job when they’re doing the same thing to all the post offices that are probably within 50 miles, or something like that?” Hutkins said. “It’s not going to be easy for those people to find jobs.”

According to the Postal Service’s employment site, no clerk jobs are open in Lake Stevens, Marysville, Granite Falls and Snohomish. Carriers are being hired for several locations.

“There will be no employee lay-offs as part of this effort,” Frum said, “Any movement of employees will be done in accordance with the respective collective bargaining agreement.”

As for the reasoning for the potential changes, it comes down to money. Hutkins said the Postal Service is looking to get deeper into the package delivery service business.

Frum said an email: “For decades, our outmoded network has created significant financial losses, increased deferred maintenance costs, deteriorated workplace conditions for our employees, and failed to efficiently integrate mail and package processing and delivery.”

It remains to be seen if the push will be fruitful, or even help the Postal Service to dig its way out of debt.

“What they’re doing isn’t much different from what they’ve always tried to do,” Hutkins said.

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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