John Wiley Price, West Turn Up For Tense Forum on Fate of Dallas's Main Post Office

Technically, the U.S. Postal Service hasn't yet made a decision about whether it will close the processing center at the main post office near Sylvan and IH-30, just one of several local sites it's considering shuttering as it looks to move operations to the Coppell and Fort Worth plants instead. But at a tense public forum last night, district manager Tim Vierling managed to convey that it's almost certain that the center and the more than 500 jobs that go with it are pretty close to history.

And though a USPS spokesperson recently told The Dallas Morning News that customers would still be able to buy stamps, mail letters and keep P.O. boxes at that location, Vierling suggested last night that's not a sure thing either. It may be, he said, that they'll have to try and keep those services "nearby." But a crowd that included postal workers, union reps, state Sen. Royce West and Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price let him know they won't let the facility go without a fight.

Vierling told the audience at Mountain View College that the decline in first-class mail, combined with the economy (it sucks) and email (it exists), made it necessary to have fewer processing facilities to sort mail. "We know this is an aggressive plan," he said, adding that of the 487 mail processing sites currently open in the U.S., 252 are being studied for "potential consolidation." The proposal to close the Dallas plant, he said, has "potential savings of $39 million annually."

With that "consolidation," though would also come what Vierling called a "service standard change." What does that mean? Well, see, right now the post office is required to deliver first-class mail the next day. They'd like to have that standard changed so that they can deliver it during a two- to three-day window. "The operational benefits would be tremendous," Vierling said. "Even though the change would go unnoticed by the average consumer."

The audience wasn't really interested in "operational benefits," though. They were interested in their jobs -- mainly, where the hell they're going to go.

Vierling assured them that no one would be laid off -- since, legally, per the postal service's agreement with the union, they can't be. But "employees may have to change jobs, hours or locations," he said. He added that "every attempt will be made to place our employees in jobs in the commuting area."

But Jennifer Fulbright, secretary-treasurer of the American Postal Workers Union local, blasted Vierling and the postal service for trying (again) to close the Dallas plant.

"Once again you're targeting the inner city," she said. "The poor, the minorities and the handicapped, these are the people who would be most greatly affected."

But Fulbright also pointed out that the Dallas processing center has the most senior employees. "It's almost as if you're trying to force them into retirement," she said. (The union also argues that a huge amount of the postal service's current financial woes are the result of a 2006 mandate to pre-fund retirement health benefits 75 years in advance.)

Vierling disagreed with her points, saying that "operationally it made sense to move to Fort Worth." The facility is larger there, he said. Plus, the land that the Dallas facility sits on is more valuable, meaning they'd could sell it for more, while keeping Fort Worth open, which is, he said, "in an industrial area."

"And screw the customer, right?" Fulbright retorted.

West was also unhappy. "Tell the community," he said to Vierling. "Dallas is the ninth-largest city in the country. Are there any other major cities on the verge of losing their postmark?"

"Yes, there are, Vierling replied. "We're studying numerous facilities." He added later that Houston is "under review."

But Vierling denied, in response to a direct question from West, that the postal service tried to close the Dallas plant back in 2009. "Based on the current service standards, we couldn't do that," he said.

"There are no emails that go back to say, 2007, 2008 that say that's the ultimate goal?" West asked.

"Under our operational structure, it's highly unlikely that could have occurred," Vierling responded.

A little later, West asked if "anything changed" as a result of the outraged town hall meetings in 2009 against the potential plant closure. No, Vierling replied. "The overall process moved forward." (The process he'd just said wasn't, you know, happening at the time.)

"What would lead us to believe that our participation in this meeting tonight would have any impact?" West asked.

Vierling didn't have a response to that, which led to some giggling from the audience. "You're destroying a postal relationship with the ninth-largest city in the country," West told him to a round of applause.

A few moments later, Leslie Thomas, a city council member from Duncanville, told Vierling that the decision to close the plant was "not a business decision, but a moral and ethical decision."

"You can close the Coppell plant and bring it back to Dallas," she said. "You can anchor this side of Dallas and give the people on this side of town an opportunity to succeed."

"I hear your impassioned speech about the relative unfairness of this," Vierling replied. "But the reality is this is a $65-billion business that's spending $70 billion a year. This organization will cease to exist if we do not get control of the situation. I have an ethical responsibility to make sure the organization is on more sound financial footing than when I took it over."

The public has until December 22 to submit public comment on the proposal. It can be addressed to Manager, Consumer, and Industry Contact, Dallas District, 951 W. Bethel Road, Coppel, TX 75099-9631.

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Anna Merlan
Contact: Anna Merlan