Missoulian: Tester introduces bill to halt Postal Service consolidation

by David Erickson

The U.S. Postal Service’s decision this week to relocate outgoing mail processing operations from Missoula to Spokane prompted U.S. Sen. Jon Tester to introduce legislation that would “prohibit unnecessary and harmful consolidation of mail processing operations nationwide.”

The PARCEL Act, short for “Protecting Access to Rural Carriers for Every Location,” would ban the consolidation of mail processing operations unless it meets three criteria written by Tester and his staff:

  • Does not result in processing operations being relocated outside of state boundaries or harming local mail delivery.
  • A geographical review is completed, particularly examining mountain passes and the implications of moving operations.
  • Public input reflects favorably on the decision to move operations.

“The Postal Service is critical to Montana’s small businesses, seniors and veterans, and shortsighted decisions like relocating Missoula’s outgoing mail processing operations out-of-state won’t work for folks in rural America,” Tester said in a statement. “USPS leadership has failed to listen to the people of Montana time and time again, and it’s time to put a stop to their attack on service in rural America. Our bipartisan legislation will bring full operations back to Missoula and ensure that Postmaster (Louis) DeJoy won’t be able to strip rural America of reliable service without public approval and legitimate justification ever again.”

The issue has been bipartisan from Montana’s delegation in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Steve Daines has also expressed opposition to the change, saying he has “serious concerns about mail delivery and potential job losses in Montana.” Daines said he will be pressing the Postal Service for answers and urging them to reconsider this decision.

Tester has sparred with DeJoy in the past, and earlier this year the Postal Service put out a statement to “dispel myths” that appeared to be directed at previous Tester statements.

The Postal Service is converting the Missoula Processing and Distribution Center into a Local Processing Center. Some outgoing mail processing operations will be moved to Spokane, which is 200 miles away. 

The U.S. Postal Service held a stand-up meeting for employees in Missoula this week, and the Missoulian obtained a document that managers handed out to workers.

In the document, the Postal Service said there will be no career employee layoffs.

However, there will be 18 career employees in Missoula who may have to accept jobs in Spokane or other locations.

“There’s a big panic today,” one worker, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation, told the Missoulian on Wednesday. He was referring to confusion about what would happen to workers in Missoula.

Workers have told the Missoulian in the past there are between 7 and 13 non-career employees who may lose their jobs here.

With elections coming up, people on social media in Missoula have expressed concern about ballots getting to the Election Center in a timely manner.

“The improvement process will not impact our ability to process the nation’s election mail effectively and securely, including ballots, in a timely manner consistent with our service standards and recommended ballot mail mailing deadlines,” said Kim Frum, a strategic communications specialist with the Postal Service.

In surrounding states, there have been reported problems when mail processing is moved to other states. For example, mail processing was moved from Rock Springs, Wyoming, to Salt Lake City in 2015. 

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, a Republican, said in a press release that decision caused “unnecessary delays and interruptions in mail service that resulted from forcing Wyoming mail to be processed in another state.”

According to the Mail Processing Facility Review of Missoula conducted by the Postal Service, the change in Missoula is expected to result in between $1.3 million and $1.7 million in savings every year.

It’s not clear how soon the change would happen, as the Postal Service said it is unable to provide additional information.

A spokesperson for Tester said they were still waiting on Thursday afternoon for the bill to receive an official number and to be posted on Congress.gov. However, Tester’s office sent a PDF of the language of the billand it will be attached to this story online at Missoulian.com.