GARFIELD PARK-Irate West Side residents again gave United States Postal Service officials an earful about the agency’s proposed plan to close five local post offices.
Tuesday night’s meeting was sponsored by postal officials who hoped to inform residents of the factors used to decide which facilities would be closed.
Instead, officials were hammered with concerns about poorly stocked postal facilities, potential job loss and skepticism over the post office’s push for a “village post office” model. Nearly 200 residents attended the meeting held at New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington.
The meeting focused on the five West Side post offices proposed for closure: Mary Alice Henry Station, 4222 W. Madison; Nancy B. Jefferson Station, 116 S. Western; Otis Grant Collins Station, 2302 S. Pulaski; Rev. Milton R. Brunson Station, 324 S. Laramie, and Robert LeFlore Station, 5001 W. Division.
Chicago District Manager and Postmaster Karen Schenck said that the comments from residents will be taking into consideration in the decision-making process. But Schenck stressed that the postal system is in its feasibility study stage and no decision has been made yet.
The postal service wants to close 14 offices – 11 in the city and three in the suburbs. Nationwide, the postal system plans to shutter 3,600 to close a $20 million deficit.
That deficit, Schenck explained, is fueled by a drop in mail volume due to Internet use and a federal mandate to pre-fund health retirement benefits for the next 75 years in 10 years to the tune of $5.3 to $5.8 billion annually.
The agency wants to replace local post offices with a “village post office” model. Under the model the postal service would contract out certain services to neighborhood stores that would sell stamps and other services. But residents and postal employees blasted the move as privatization and raised concerns about service and mail security.
Ald. Deborah Graham (29th) called the officials’ spiel “warm and friendly” but she contends that a decision has already been made on which post offices to close.
She contends the Brunson station is already being phased out. Graham said the station is barely stocked with merchandise and there is “one clerk at the window with lines at the door.”
“So it sounds like to me you have already transitioned to go to the village post office model,” Graham said.
Donald Nichols, executive manger of post office operations, disagreed, saying that there is no preplanning to close facilities. The feasibility study, he said, looks at foot traffic, annual revenues and proximity to other post offices as determining factors.
The Brunson station, he said, saw a decrease of 9,000 visitors between 2009-2011 and revenues declined from $407,000 to $367,000 in that same period. Local post offices, Nichols noted, must make $600,000 in revenue on average.
He added that there’s a “strong likelihood” that not all five post offices would close. Nichols explained that the postal system is considering closing the retail portion or counter services at these locations. Those functions, he said would be farmed out to village post offices.
But Dr. Howard Ehrman, a Little Village resident and a Collins station customer, questioned whether residents can get passports or money orders at these village post offices to which postal officials said no.
“This is the biggest scam in U.S. history,” Ehrman said, noting that Benjamin Franklin didn’t start the postal system with the intention to turn a profit. “This is not supposed to be a business. It is like the CTA, like the public library, like Stroger Hospital. These are public services that we all pay for with our tax money.”
Ald. Emma Mitts contends revenue should not be used as a factor in closing West Side post offices. With high unemployment and low-wage jobs, these post offices will not generate the same revenue in more affluent communities, she said.
“It’s not a level playing field,” Mitts said.
Laverne Drew, a postal worker for 34 years, expressed reservations about the village post office model. She questioned what kind of training will these contractors receive. While shopping in a Meijer’s store that provides postal service, Drew said a store employee asked her for help in processing a letter.
“Anytime a Meijer’s employee has to run behind me while I’m trying to buy hamburgers for my kids to do a certified letter, it is a problem,” said Drew who works at the LeFlore station. She said her station has been flooded with complaints about mishandled mail from these contracted post offices.
Mack I. Julion, Branch 11 president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said that the village post office is a veil attempt at privatization. He said mail service in “every area and every community” is a constitutional right.
“Do not fall for the banana in the tailpipe. Do not be hoodwinked. Do not be bamboozled,” he said. “It is a right of every citizen to have postal service in their community.”
The postal service has extended its Oct. 27th deadline for a survey gauging customers’ postal usage for another 30 days. The survey is part of the service’s feasibility study. Residents at the meeting complained many have not received the survey.