Strong dismay over a proposal to eliminate Saturday mail services nationwide was evident during a public hearing Monday held by the Postal Regulatory Commission.
Business owners, community members, letter carriers and postal executives pleaded their cases at Las Vegas City Hall about a five-day postal week to the commission, which oversees the U.S. Postal Service.
But with the 1 p.m. start time, the meeting was sparsely attended by letter carriers and other postal employees who argued that more people would attend if future hearings were held in the evening.
It was the first of seven public hearings scheduled from May to June throughout the country. The commission will present its recommendation to Congress either supporting or denouncing the proposal once the hearings are completed.
The U.S. Postal Service proposed cutting Saturday delivery to cope with an estimated deficit of between $8 billion and $9 billion. Those losses are in addition to the $5 billion the agency lost during its last fiscal year. The plan would go into effect during fiscal year 2011, contingent upon Congress not enacting preventative legislation.
"At the end of the day, the U.S. Postal Service still has a business problem," said Susan Plonkey, vice president of sales for the mailing agency. "And certainly there are some things we need to do to reverse some of our financial trends. They have to be big things, and there’s a very limited number of big things we can do."
By law, the postal service is required to pre-fund retiree health benefits and to deliver mail six days a week. Postal officials are asking Congress to restructure the payment schedule into those funds and eliminate statutory language that mandates six-day delivery.
"We don’t want a bailout," Plonkey said. "We certainly want to pay for our retiree health benefits, but we’re doing it in a way no other agency is. Restructuring those payments and reducing the number of days of delivery are two things available to us."
Critics said the plan would not provide a long-term solution to the postal service’s economic problems. Instead, it would send postal customers to find other mailing companies such as Fed-Ex or UPS, create a divide for customers who live in rural areas or can’t access the Internet and hurt businesses, such as Netflix, that heavily rely on the postal service to send out products.
"The estimated savings of $3.1 billion per year will not offset the billions of dollars in revenue that will be diverted from postal coffers by millions of Americans seeking alternatives," said Omar Gonzalez, of the American Postal Workers Union.
An estimated 75,000 postal jobs could be lost nationwide under the plan. Four hundred of those are located in Nevada.
For 30 years, Rich Griffin has carried mail to the same neighborhood in Las Vegas. Griffin, a member of the Nevada State Association of Letter Carriers, said Las Vegas is a continuously operating business city that needs mail six days a week.
"No state has been hit harder by the financial meltdown and the recession than Nevada," he said. "We have cut lots of carrier jobs in response. But destroying more good jobs by cutting Saturday delivery at a time when we have a job crisis makes no sense."
Yul Melonson, who manages the Nevada-Sierra postal district, testified that from fiscal year 2005 to fiscal year 2010 his district revenue declined 17 percent.
Because of this, he said he wasn’t surprised at the "significant operational and service changes necessary for the long-term financial stability of the postal service."
"The impact of the current recession could hardly be more dramatic here in Las Vegas," Melonson said. "As business was booming, so were residential construction, population and expansion of our delivery network. The recession stopped all of that and took the postal network with it."
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