Hassan presses USPS execs over changes to Manchester center

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Apr. 16—U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan urged United States Postal Service officials to "listen to the employees" to minimize impacts on service from its decision to transfer all outgoing mail processing operations from its location in Manchester to Boston.

"We're looking at more delayed mail, more delayed absentee ballots and job losses for employees, and that is unacceptable," said Hassan, D-N.H.

She used an oversight hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in Washington on Tuesday to put postal officials on the hot seat about a plan announced April 2 to spend $15.7 million to upgrade the Manchester facility and locate a sorting and delivery center there.

Meanwhile, the processing of outgoing mail will be transferred about 50 miles, to Boston.

Hassan said sending all outgoing mail to Boston, even a letter going from one end of Manchester across the city, could lengthen delivery times.

"The Postal Service's current plan fundamentally lacks a commitment to service. Granite Staters, and all Americans, deserve a new plan for reliable, timely postal delivery," Hassan said.

"This is true whether they live in rural or urban areas, whether they are waiting for a customer's check to come in, whether they are a grandparent waiting for a birthday card from their grandchild, or whether they are waiting for life-saving medications."

Hassan said the officials need to listen to employees. "They are the experts in delivering mail. They are the experts in their states; they're the experts. They're the ones who know where a particular address is when someone writes the wrong address on an envelope," she said.

It's unclear how many working in Manchester would be able to commute to Boston if that's where their jobs go, she said.

"Commuting to Boston, one of the worst commutes in the country," Hassan said. "You are talking two hours each way for many of these employees to at least reliably be (on time) there at work."

USPS Postmaster Inspector General Tammy Hull admitted the agency faced workforce challenges after merging operations in Richmond, Virginia, and Atlanta.

"In Richmond, we have seen changes in service performance," Hull said.

She added the agency is working on a "pre-implementation ground game" to work with employees in future consolidations to help minimize disruptions for workers and delivery.

"I am not sure how many people will be retained at that local facility and how many will have" to relocate, Hull said.

North Country impact

Hassan raised concerns about the future of delivery for North Country residents, whose "local" processing center — in White River Junction, Vermont — is moving to Hartford, Connecticut.

"The postal service remains particularly important up there, especially when you're talking about the delivery of medication and essential goods," Hassan said.

The mail becomes more critical in this region, parts of which lack full access to high-speed internet and where cellphone service can be spotty, she said.

"FedEx and UPS won't deliver up there. The postal service is all that we have got," Hassan said.

Michael Kubayanda, chairman of the independent Postal Regulatory Commission, said USPS management has broad powers to reorganize.

"They are quite aggressive about exercising their own autonomy," Kubayanda told Hassan.

The commission will issue advisory opinions to urge USPS management to consider reforms.

In 2021 and 2022, the commission issued opinions regarding the handling of prescription medication through the mail, he said.

The agency has at times made "over-optimistic forecasts" about how quickly it can complete an overhaul, he said.

"You see the statistics heading in the wrong direction," Kubayanda said.

A public hearing last February on the consolidation proposal in Manchester attracted about 250 angry postal workers fearful of possible layoffs and customers concerned about delivery delays.

In its announcement April 2, USPS promised no career layoffs as part of the initiative.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was present for Tuesday's hearing. Other senators questioned DeJoy, but he did not respond to any of Hassan's comments.