, Newburyport, MA

February 16, 2013

Postmarked for change

End to Saturday mail call on horizon

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — Enjoy that visit to the mailbox today. Come August, that Saturday ritual will likely be a thing of the past.

The U.S. Postal Service announced this month that it would soon be ending Saturday first-class mail delivery in hopes of saving $2 billion annually as it struggles to survive in an increasingly hostile economic environment.

What kind of impact the change will have locally, however, is still anyone’s guess.

Representatives from the Newburyport and Amesbury post offices deferred comment, referring questions to the USPS regional office in Rhode Island, where spokeswoman Christine Dugas said it was too early to tell what the change could mean to individual post offices.

“There is really no answer to what is going to be the impact on the local post offices,” Dugas said. “We won’t know because it will depend on who decides to retire, who moves to other post offices, so it’s early to say that there’s going to be any particular impact.”

Dugas said the USPS expects the initiative could impact more than 35,000 employees across the country, but that the reduction in the labor force would be conducted through attrition and not through layoffs.

“That is not unusual for the postal service; we’ve eliminated 193,000 positions through attrition since 2006, so that’s not new to us,” Dugas said. “When someone retires, they don’t hire someone new to replace them.”

While Saturday mail delivery will cease in August, the Postal Service will continue to deliver packages and prescription drugs on Saturdays, and the mail will still circulate so customers with post office boxes will still be able to get their mail on weekends. The Postal Service’s package delivery service has been one of its few bright spots over the past few years, with a 14-percent increase in package delivery volume since 2010.

While mailing a letter has become obsolete for many Americans, who have taken their correspondence online or over their smartphones, there are still some who depend on the Postal Service for business and marketing reasons. Politicians running for office often become some of the Postal Service’s best customers during election season.

“When I campaigned, I think I sent more mail than I had before in my entire life,” said newly elected 2nd Essex District state Rep. Lenny Mirra, R-West Newbury. “They’re much maligned, but they were great to us; they gave us great service during my campaign and I can’t say enough nice things about them.”

Since the Postal Service announced the change, which is scheduled to take effect in early August, there has been debate in Washington over whether the agency is even allowed to make the change without congressional approval. As a state representative, Mirra has no say in the matter, but he said he’s glad the Postal Service is trying to keep itself afloat and hopes it is given the opportunity to do so.

“These are the kinds of things that businesses have to do all the time to keep themselves in business and it’s good to see that the post office is trying to do the same,” Mirra said.

Moving to a five-day delivery schedule would bring America more in line with other countries such as Australia, Canada and Sweden, which all deliver mail five days a week. Dugas said the Postal Service had conducted surveys that indicated seven out of 10 Americans supported the change, and polls conducted by Gallup, the Washington Post and USA Today suggest the same.

“We think the American people are willing to handle five-day delivery,” Dugas said. “Saturday was their day of choice and I think everyone recognizes that we must do something to reduce costs because the Postal service is facing dire straits with the advent of the Internet.”