TALLEVAST -- The Manasota mail- sorting facility is being returned to sender from the U.S. Postal Service after reappearing on a nationwide consolidation list this week.
The Postal Service published a list of 82 postal facilities nationwide to be closed starting in January, with the Manasota Processing and Distribution Center making a return appearance on the list, affecting nearly 400 Manatee County jobs at 850 Tallevast Road.
If the decision goes through, most mail and jobs will be sent to Fort Myers, while some mail will be sorted in Tampa, according to the report.
A last-ditch effort in February to save the jobs and the plant worked at the time, with local officials pitching to the Postal Service that the Fort Myers site would not save the money they thought it would and it would be more susceptible to hurricanes.
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The new list surprised Glenn Hayes over the weekend, as the president of the Manasota Local chapter of the American Postal Workers Union returned from vacation in Daytona.
"It's like a punch in the gut after we've been through this before, four times in the past," Hayes said, calling the move unexpected.
The Manasota facility has taken on more work and volume over the past year, from warehouses in St. Petersburg and Lakeland, increasing the number of affected employees from more than 120 to nearly 400, Hayes said. As part of union agreements with the Postal Service, the federal agency has to find job openings for each employee affected.
"The same employees who moved from St. Pete to the Bradenton area are told, 'Guess what? We're closing the plant that you're in now,'" he said. "There are a lot of angry people."
Rep. Vern Buchanan's office said it would continue to fight to keep the facility open and instead have Fort Myers mail sent to Manasota and Tampa.
"We will continue to make our case that the Postal Service would save more money and maintain reliable service and good-paying jobs for our constituents by transferring work from the Fort Myers facility and the Manasota and Tampa distribution centers," said Sally Tibbetts,
spokeswoman for Buchanan, R-Sarasota. "According to recent Area Mail Processing studies, the postal service could save approximately $15.8 million by transferring mail processing operations from the Fort Myers PDC to the Manasota and Tampa PDCs, nearly twice as much as the $8.5 million in annual savings estimated from consolidating the Manasota PDC into the Fort Myers PDC."
The Postal Service estimates an $8.9 million savings in the first year and $9.5 million saved annually if Manasota is closed.
A Postal Service spokeswoman did not directly address what the agency thought of Buchanan's proposal.
"The Postal Service carefully considered all options for mail processing consolidations," Postal Service spokeswoman Enola Rice said. "We previously communicated with Congressman Buchanan regarding his suggestions and our decision to move mail processing from the Manasota facility."
Hayes said it would be easier for the Postal Service to close the Manasota plant because it cannot force employees to move more than 50 miles from their work location. A Fort Myers closure would cause issues because Manasota is 80 miles away and doesn't have another nearby warehouse other than Manasota, Hayes acknowledged, whereas Manasota employees can be sent to Tampa, which is barely within the 50-mile radius.
"Quite honestly, we have the volume to justify both plants, but the Postal Service is very much on a kick to downsize their operations," Hayes said. He expects to receive more news about the planned closure from the Postal Service next week.
The warehouse has been targeted for closure since 2012 as part of a nationwide consolidation.
The Postal Service also published a letter to its customers explaining the move, saying it had consolidated 141 mail-sorting facilities in 2012 and 2013, already saving $865 million.
"Over the past three years, the Postal Service recorded financial losses of $26 billion. The Postal Service receives no taxpayer funds to pay for operating costs and derives all of its revenues from the sale of our products and services, and continues to face significant financial challenges associated with the decline of First-Class Mail volume and revenue, wage and benefit inflation, increasing operating costs, as well as legislative mandates and significant debt pressures," the letter states. "Moreover, the uncertainty regarding legislative reform and review of postal rates in the courts continues to delay needed capital investments to acquire package sorting equipment and replace an aging mail delivery fleet."
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.