Last Mail Call: Last Night at City Hall, a Town Hall Over Fate of Dallas Main Post Office

Its been more than a month since word broke that the United States Postal Service was considering -- or, rather, planning on -- moving some operations out of the Dallas Main Post Office on I-30 to a facility in Coppell. Since then, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Mayor Tom Leppert have expressed their concerns in missives to USPS officials. But last night, Johnson took it one step further: She called a town hall meeting that brought local politicians (including Leppert, briefly) and more than 200 postal workers to Dallas City Hall's council chambers, where, judging by all the shaking heads and disgruntled scoffing, folks aren't happy with the consolidation.

The USPS, claims to be losing $20 million dollars a day and has said that moving some operations to Coppell will save considerable funds. Tim Vierling, senior plant manager at the Dallas facility, was on hand to explain which operations would be moved: the Area Mail Processing facility -- one of many being studied, from Aberdeen, South Dakota, to Zanesville, Ohio. The USPS says that since there's considerably less First-Class Mail being sent these days, it doesn't have to process as many pieces -- hence, the need to consolidate.

Vierling insisted, though, that delivery operations would remain in Dallas. Matter of fact, he said, the postal service is currently studying the city's routes to make delivery even more efficient. Which did little to dissuade employees concerned about being forced to drive from southern Dallas to Coppell -- if they get to keep their jobs at all.

Of course, the ruckus over this reshuffling began last month, after postal union members said the USPS was hiding its public hearings. By the time word had gotten out about the restructuring, "the ship had already sailed," said state Sen. Royce West, who also attended last night's meeting. West said his office didn't hear about it at all. Vierling later acknowledged that, well, see, the USPS did in fact forget to send  an invite to the senator -- "an oversight," he called it.

Much more after the jump -- including something called a "standby room."

Several attendees had one simple question for Vierling: How will employees be reassigned from Dallas to Coppell, if they're, in fact, not let go? He dodged the question, explaining only that the answer was "too complicated" and would take "20 minutes" to answer. Instead, he  said, the issue will be addressed on in D.C. and with the postal unions, currently at odds with the USPS over its proposal to go to five-day-a-week delivery. The audie nce laughed derisively in response.

He also insisted that USPS plans to avoid layoffs, despite the fact the postal service has announced that 117 positions will be lost in the consolidation. Amd, said Vierling, the USPS's "strategy is the 'most amount of product, least amount of labor.'"

Another issue raised last night was the use of a "standby room." Which is? Apparently, when there isn't enough mail on the operation floors, workers will be asked to sit in a room for an indefinite amount of time. Sometimes, they have to get permission to go to the restroom and can't even read a magazine to keep them occupied. Able-bodied people will sit and stare at the wall until a later, more mail-heavy shift. Said a man at the podium, sometimes supervisors will do operational work while employees are in the standby room.

West and Johnson seemed particularly disturbed by this revelation. West asked Vierling, "Would you agree that this is an inefficient use of taxpayer's money?"

To which he responded, after much hesitation, "Yes ... but with a caveat."
The consolidation seems a done deal: The time for public input has passed, Vierling said, to which an audience member cried out, "So this is moot!"

Even so, Johnson requested to meet tomorrow with USPS officials to discuss the effect it will have on the Southern sector, part of the district she represents. She pointed out that South Dallas citizens still predominantly use mail, rather than e-mail or fax, which is the main cause for the USPS' economic downfall.  Most of USPS's money comes from First-Class Mail, she noted: "If you did a study, [you'd probably find that[ First-Class Mail [is] generated in this end rather than Coppell ... That should be in some kind of consideration."

Still, because the study is a "predecisional document" -- meaning, an internal management document that isn't required to be made public -- nobody will know about the decision until it's made.

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Alex Wolens