BRADENTON -- U.S. postal workers warned Thursday the industry will look completely different in five to 10 years -- and not in a good way -- if people don't start paying attention to what they described as the degradation of the postal service.
"By outsourcing a little bit here, a little bit there, downgrading over time -- I mean, you used to be able to get a letter in Bradenton, you could mail it today and get it tomorrow," sad Deborah Smith, president of the Manatee-area local of the American Postal Workers Union. "Now that's taking two or three days because that mail is having to travel because of this downsizing and the services being cut."
Protests were organized across the country Thursday in efforts to preserve postal services. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, announced recently the Manasota Postal Distribution Center and the Holmes Beach post office boxes would remain functional, but they and the rest of the post service are still on the chopping block.
Smith and a few supporters stood outside the Braden River Branch Post Office at 4112 53rd Ave. E. Thursday morning passing out information and asking people to sign cards asking lawmakers to keep postal service a top priority.
Since 2012, 140 mail processing centers in the United States have closed, according to the American Postal Workers Union, and 82 are considered for closure
in 2015. Jobs in the industry are being outsourced to private companies such as Staples, where postal worker jobs can be done for less by employees making minimum wage.
"That might seem fine to people now, but if we continue to outsource post office jobs to private companies, soon the entire industry will be privatized," Smith said.
If that happens, Smith said residents in more rural areas may have to travel hours to get postal services because private companies are not required to deliver to all areas. Since it's not typically profitable to operate in a low-population area, companies such as FedEx and UPS don't deliver to all parts of the United States. FedEx now relies on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver 30 percent of its ground volume, according to the American Postal Workers Union.
Smith said post offices are understaffed.
"We did our own mail processing in Bradenton until 1990, when the Manasota station opened. That left 48 clerks in the city of Bradenton. Now, we're down to 25 clerks in six facilities," said Smith, who worked in the industry from 1985 until 2013. "You want to know why you have to wait in long lines at post offices nowadays? That's why."
Though Smith said it's true post offices deal with fewer letters in the Internet age, package service has "grown by leaps and bounds" while the postal service continues to cut staff. There are also proposals to cut services down from six-day deliveries.
The issue is even more perplexing, Smith said, because the U.S. Postal Service is a self-funded agency without tax dollar support. Even with a requirement the agency funds future retiree health benefits 75 years in advance over a 10-year period -- the only public or private agency with such a requirement, which costs about $5.5 billion per year -- the agency is still profitable, Smith said.
"We need to get the closures stopped and the service back to the standards that it was at least in 2012. If this isn't stopped, it's going to be an institution that falls by the wayside," Smith said. "And postal service is one of the highest redeemed services that we have in the United States."
"This is a forward-moving society, so why are we continuing to do things that push us backward?"
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @KateIrby.