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Petaluma postal consolidation plans pushed back

This year's rush of holiday mailing comes at a time when the U.S. Postal Service has begun to dramatically scale down its mail processing operations in an effort to cut costs, though officials say mailing services should not be significantly affected.

The Postal Service announced last fall that it was considering closing and consolidating Petaluma's mail processing facility on North McDowell Boulevard with a larger facility in Oakland as part of a nationwide effort by the Postal Service to cut costs by more than $1 billion annually as it faced declining revenues brought on in part by a reduction in the amount of first-class mail — letters and bills — being sent.

The first phase of that consolidation has taken place, with eight North Bay employees being relocated. But now, the complete consolidation, which could affect more than 200 employees and possibly slow the delivery of first-class mail by one day, is being reconsidered, according to Postal Service officials.

The Postal Service is still analyzing whether it will move all operations to Oakland, said James Wigdel, Postal Service spokesman, who explained that the consolidations are part of an effort by the organization to be as efficient as possible. Across the country, the Postal Service is operating at too large a scale, built to handle about double the volume of mail it handled last year.

If the consolidation does occur in Petaluma, it would begin later than was planned and could result in the North Bay facility being closed. But Wigdel said that may not be necessary if the Postal Service finds that it can save money in other ways.

"The proposal is to move the remaining operations to Oakland, but that's not final," he said.

Though some local customers have reported longer-than-usual wait times to ship packages at the North Bay facility recently, staffing at the Postal Service counters should not be affected by the consolidation, Wigdel said. He would not comment specifically on whether or not there has been a reduction in staffing at the shipping counter or behind the scenes in the mail sorting facility, saying that those decisions are made on a local level. Postmaster Barry Amiri was out Tuesday and so could not be reached for comment.

However, according to David Ospital, general president of the Redwood Empire chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, eight employees who worked in mail processing have so far been relocated to Santa Rosa or Napa — moves that employees seem to prefer over a transfer to Oakland, which is about 50 miles away.

Many employees are considering an early retirement incentive program, which they must choose whether or not to accept by early December, he said. If they accept the offer, employees would continue working through the beginning of the new year.

Despite the changes so far, the facility seemed to be operating smoothly on Monday afternoon, with only a small wait for customers with packages to mail. Sylvia Thompson was one of a number of people preparing to ship holiday packages at the North McDowell location. She had just moved to the area from southern California and said the lines didn't strike her as long at all as she finished labeling nine packages that she was preparing to ship to friends and family.

"In southern California, the lines are outrageous," she said cheerily, glancing at the line of six or so people waiting to ship boxes.

(Contact Jamie Hansen at jamie.hansen@arguscourier.com.)


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