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Confusion over plan for Petaluma mail facility

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A controversial plan to shutter the U.S. Postal Service’s North Bay mail processing facility in Petaluma is on hold, but local postal workers and the area’s congressional representative continue to express strong opposition to the plan.

Petaluma’s North Bay Processing and Distribution Center at 1150 North Mcdowell Blvd. will not close this year and no jobs will be lost, according to Augustine Ruiz, chief spokesperson for the United States Postal Service’s San Francisco District. He said 166 postal employees work at the local plant.

“We will not be closing that facility this year,” said Ruiz. “The center will still be used for all incoming mail to Petaluma, as well as all parcels. No jobs will be lost.”

Ruiz added: “The use of first-class mail has continued to drop in recent years, as the public uses other methods of communication, notably email.”

As its revenues decline, the USPS has had to cut back on expenses to keep the service afloat. Most recently, it announced the impending closure of the large mail processing center and plans to transfer the work to facilities in Oakland or San Francisco.

Until recently, workers at the Petaluma plant used to process all mail sent throughout the North Bay, organize it and place it on trucks for delivery to North Bay customers. But much of that work has since been sent to San Francisco.

The change has resulted in some local mail being delayed since it must now go to San Francisco for sorting. Beginning in July, all first class mail sent from Petaluma will be routed through San Francisco rather than Petaluma.

Ruiz said that the North Bay facility could eventually be shut down, but he said any decisions on closing it were “several months” away. He also said that nobody currently working for the post office would lose their job, though some might have to take work elsewhere.

“If we determine that the Petaluma facility must be closed, we will try to keep our employees within a 50 mile radius of where they are currently employed,” he said.

Valerie Schropp, executive vice-president of the American Postal Workers Redwood Empire local union, said workers have been left in limbo by the uncertainty.

“Since this process started, our postal workers have been on a roller-coaster, not knowing if the North Bay processing center would be closed, when it would be closed, and what would happen to their employment,” she said. “Some people have been told they will have to move, then they are told they won’t. What we know is our employees won’t lose their jobs, but we have no idea where many of them will be working.”

Added Schropp: “The administration says centers like the one in Petaluma are overstaffed. We think they are understaffed. Since Jan. 5, there has been a 27 percent drop in efficiency of the North Bay center. Three-million pieces of mail have been delayed. I personally sent a birthday card across town and it took ten days to get to the recipient. We need that center open and running at full staff.”

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, recently sent a letter to U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan, criticizing closure of the North Bay processing facility and the postal service’s lack of a response to his concerns.

“I continue to be frustrated with the ... refusal to provide my office with requested information and the lack of interest in fully explaining these changes to the public,” Huffman wrote in his letter to Brennan. “I do not believe it is wise to move forward with a plan to consolidate operations without knowing the full financial and service impact of such a change, and I ask that you halt this change until your analysis is complete and the public has had time to review the new data and provide comments.”

Asked for his reaction to Ruiz’s comments on the situation, Huffman said: “Until I hear an official statement from U.S. Postal Service Headquarters that the Petaluma Processing Center will definitively not be closing, I will continue voicing my strong opposition to this misguided plan to close the facility, which will disrupt mail delivery, cause significant job losses, and damage the local economy.”

(Contact E. A. Barrera at argus@arguscourier.com.)

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