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Friday, Mar 08 2013 06:41 PM

Postal Services speeds up closures at Pegasus facility

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    Cathy Huggins, a post office automation clerk, demonstrates how the Delivery Barcode Sorter automation machine works during the 10th Annual Business Mail and Automation Fair at the U.S. Postal Service general mail facility on Pegasus Drive.

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BY ANTONIE BOESSENKOOL Californian staff writer aboessenkool@bakersfield.com

The U.S. Postal Service is accelerating plans to close mail processing operations at the Bakersfield Processing & Distribution Center on Pegasus Drive near Meadows Field airport. About 200 employees at the facility will be affected and moved to other positions in and outside Bakersfield.

The Postal Service announced a year ago that the closure was coming, one of more than 200 consolidations the agency is carrying out nationwide in the face of steep declines in mail volumes and a $15.9 billion loss in its last fiscal year.

With the closure of the Bakersfield facility, mail will be processed in Santa Clarita, even if it's just going from one side of Bakersfield to the other.

The Bakersfield facility closure was supposed to have been part of a second phase of closures at 89 facilities nationwide that will start in 2014. Instead, it was moved up to a wave of closures at 140 facilities that will wrap up this year, said Richard Maher, a Postal Service spokesman based in Los Angeles.

An exact date for the closure in Bakersfield isn't certain, Maher said, but the Postal Service is required to notify employees 90 days in advance about changes to their employment. The Postal Service is using the date of June 1 as a sort of target date to start the process, which is why it's notifying employees now, Maher said.

"It was the date that we set so we could start talking to our employees," Maher said. The closure will happen anytime after that date, he said.

"We have not set a date for implementation. We're working toward and anticipating it being sometime this summer."

That's about a full year earlier than had been expected for the closure of the Bakersfield plant, several people said.

"The Postal Service Board of Governors instructed Postal Service management to accelerate restructuring of the Postal Service operations to reduce costs," Maher said of the reason for moving up the closure date for the Bakersfield facility. "The reason they gave that directive was the inability of Congress to pass comprehensive postal legislation."

The plan is to move all 200 people affected by the closure to other Postal Service positions, in Bakersfield, Santa Clarita or Santa Barbara, said David Morrison, the plant manager at the Pegasus Drive facility. Those employees with seniority will likely be first in line for Bakersfield openings. Some of the 200 employees are nearing retirement age and may choose that route, he said.

Morrison said his own position also will be eliminated and he doesn't know yet where he will be placed.

"It's a very tough time for everybody," he said. "There's not an employee in this facility that's not impacted. ... But it's a business decision that has to be made for a company that's in the throes of a fiscal crisis."

"Everyone will end up with a job somewhere, somehow," Morrison said. "We're in the position right now where we don't believe anyone is going to be placed any farther away than Santa Clarita or possibly Santa Barbara."

There will still be a handful of people working at the Pegasus Drive facility, Morrison said. Those people will man the operations that will remain: post office boxes, mail drop-off and retail operations.

Alfred Paredez is president of Local 472 of the American Postal Workers Union, which represents workers at the plant. He said workers at the plant were told Tuesday of the accelerated closure schedule.

"Everybody's pretty much shocked right now," Paredez said. "A lot of people don't understand why it's being moved up."

Paredez said union members have reached out to Congressional representatives, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, to try to further legislation to address the Postal Service's financial strife, with the hopes of preventing the closure.

"We're not giving up," he said.

Mail from the city of Bakersfield that must be sent out within a certain timeframe, such as notices of hearings or other public meetings, could be affected.

"We're in the process of looking at the (city) code to see if there are any changes we should make to accommodate the new timeframes for delivery of mail," said Bakersfield City Clerk Roberta Gafford.

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