MANATEE -- The U.S. Postal Service announced late Friday that it will consolidate the Manasota Processing and Distribution Center with a Fort Myers office, eliminating more than 100 local jobs and saving more than $8 million.
The consolidation is expected to be completed by February 2014.
A preliminary area mail processing feasibility study anticipated that the consolidation would save the postal service approximately $8.5 million annually and cut 126 positions. The study, released in March 2012, said 209 positions would be impacted at the Manasota facility on Tallevast Road, but 94 positions would be added at the Fort Myers location.
Some employees may opt for early retirement. Others will be offered new positions with the postal service.
"The postal service has been consolidating our mail processing centers for several years and have had no layoffs," said Enola Rice, postal service spokeswoman. "It depends on the employees, how many are there after this move takes place and what types of job they would like within the postal service, in keeping with their collective bargaining agreement."
Glenn Hayes, president of the Manasota local chapter of the American Postal Workers Union, said some employees must be offered jobs within a 50-mile radius.
Others could be transferred as far as 500 miles away.
"It's creating a lot of anxiety because most people do not know where they'll end up," Hayes said. "They have not issued an official event stating where people will go. Some will go to Fort Myers, St. Petersburg or Tampa. Some will have to commute 50 to 100 miles. Some may choose to retire. Some may quit. The postal service is trying to shed bodies, and that's a fact."
From Oct. 1, 2011 to Sept. 30, 2012, the postal service had a net loss of $15.9 billion, compared to a $5.1 billion net loss in the same time frame last year.
"In the past two years we've reduced our employee count by 60,000," Rice said. "We consolidated over 70 mail processing facilities, modified retail hours, but we have not laid off any employees."
Since last year, first-class mail revenue has decreased 3.9 percent, while standard mail has dropped 4.3 percent, a news release stated.
"Communication has changed in society with technology, with text messaging and emails," Rice said. "First-class mail has had a difficult time remaining a vital part."
Rice said the postal service is seeking legislative action to alleviate financial burdens.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, has been a strong opponent to the consolidation. In March, he sent a letter to Nancy Rettinhouse, Suncoast U.S. Postal Service district manager, explaining that more money could be saved if the Fort Myers facility was consolidated into the Manasota office.
"I am deeply disappointed by this decision," Buchanan said. "The Manasota PDC has provided our area of Southwest Florida with hundreds of good-paying jobs and quality mail service over the years. Moving forward, I encourage the postal service to work hard to ensure my constituents continue to receive the reliable service to which they are accustomed."
Rice said the consolidation over the next year should be "seamless" for residents in Manatee and Sarasota counties. But Hayes is not so sure.
"Mail will travel 50 miles from Sarasota to Tampa, 129 miles from Tampa to Fort Myers and 80 miles back to Sarasota for distribution on the street. It makes no sense logistically," Hayes said. "We were told this probably would not happen unless the postal service went to a two-night overnight standard. Right now, you put mail in the mailbox on Thursday and Friday it should be delivered. If the postal service relaxes that standard, you could see three-to-five-day delivery delays, especially if you throw holiday or weekends in.
"It's going to be a definite delay of mail service in the 342-(ZIP code) area, and that's the biggest problem the public will see."
Rice said service standard changes are possible, but they would not happen until 2014.
"We've studied several different scenarios and considered many factors," Rice said, such as transportation, mail volume and logistics. "This decision was made based on that study."
Results of the new study, which began in February, will be released Monday.
Elizabeth Johnson, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.