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Changes to mail service in store

Citing continuing declines in first class mail volume, the U.S. Postal Service has confirmed that it will close its Petaluma mail processing facilities on North McDowell and Southpoint boulevards and consolidate operations in Oakland as part of a nationwide program to reduce costs.

The move, which is scheduled to begin sometime after May 15, will result in local mail "going from overnight delivery to 2-to-3-day delivery in the local area," says James Wigdel, a regional spokesman for the Postal Service.

Understandably, postal customers are not happy with this change. Petaluma resident Greg Conrad, who was sending off a package at the North McDowell facility's customer service office on Tuesday, says he'd rather that the Postal Service not close the facility. "The mail is already slow," he says.

The large mail processing operation is located behind the customer service area of the building where 228 postal employees process mail for Marin, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties.

Wigdel says that no one will be laid off during the transition. "Those employees will be reassigned according with collective bargaining agreements. Some employees will choose to retire and others will change the kind of job from mail clerk to letter carrier. We will set up an internal website to help employees with the transitions," he explains.

A mail clerk who has worked for the Postal Service for over two decades declined to give his name, but said that morale is low among the employees because of the uncertainty of where the jobs will be after the facility closes.

"Supposedly there is a 50-mile limit to where they can reassign us," he says, but we just don't know where we will go. It's disappointing that this is happening, but it is part of a typical business cycle. Our industry is in flux."

Widgel says that the customer service and business mail portion of the building will remain open while the mail processing operations are in transition, which could take up to a year after the process gets underway.

"We own the facility," he says, "and if we sell the building, we may be able to continue services there by renting the retail space." If the retail portion has to move, public hearings are required before a new location is chosen.

In the meantime, the North McDowell customer service office remains a busy place, with a constant stream of people dropping off mail, buying stamps and sending packages. Out of the 1,063 post boxes available, 994 are in use, with a short waiting list for specific sized boxes. If the retail space does move, Wigdel said the Postal Service's history indicates more boxes would be provided because of the high demand.

For now, Conrad says, "I am just glad that they are keeping the retail section open."

(Contact Elaine Silver at argus@arguscourier.com)


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