COLUMBIA — The path along Interstate 70 Drive was lined with people in yellow and orange neon shirts handing out flyers and holding posters with slogans such as “Save the Mid-Mo Mail Facility” and “You've Got Mail, For Now.” They waved as people honked and cheered out of car windows on their way into a public hearing Tuesday night that addressed the U.S. Postal Service's plan to eliminate 42 of 133 jobs at the Columbia mail processing center.
About 120 people gathered at the Holiday Inn Executive Center to call for a stop to the proposed cuts. Among them was Kent Nichols, 59, who has worked for the Postal Service for almost 40 years. He's a clerk in the Columbia processing center.
“I've seen this consolidation stuff almost 40 years ago,” he said through tears, his shaking hands gripping the microphone. “It didn't work…You're trying to put a Band-Aid on a head wound that's gushing blood.”
The downsizing of processing facilities is one of the Postal Service's proposed solutions to an overall decline in mail volume of 53 billion pieces since 2006.
“The Postal Service is responding to a changing marketplace,” said David Martin, district manager for the Gateway District. “Put simply, to process less mail, we need fewer facilities.”
The cuts at the Columbia facility would save the post office $4.15 million annually, according to the Area Mail Processing study released March 15.
In 2006, the Postal Service operated 673 processing facilities. By 2013, the goal was to reduce that number to fewer than 200, according to Postal Service figures.
The Columbia center processes mail from all over mid-Missouri, reaching north to the Iowa border and south to Camdenton, along the Lake of the Ozarks, according to Jim Marsden, a 27-year-employee of the Postal Service and president of the Central Missouri chapter of the American Postal Workers Union.
“This affects more than the 42 impacted employees,” Marsden said. “It affects everyone who receives mail.”
The proposed downsizing of the facility will result in local mail being rerouted to St. Louis and Kansas City for processing, a worry for many at the meeting.
“We refer to mail going to St. Louis as going to the black hole,” Jeff Grimes, General Manager of the Centralia Fireside Gazette said.
The rerouting will result in a change of service from Columbia's current single-day service to two- to three-day service.
The 42 employees who stand to lose their place at the Columbia facility said they face stress and worry about what the proposed relocation will bring. It's especially worrisome for families, though Marsden questions the feasibility of relocation, citing a clause in their contracts that says employees can't be relocated farther than 50 miles from their current facility.
Reba Newman, a 38-year old Columbia resident, has been a clerk in the facility for six years.
"It's an uncomfortable feeling," she said. "I've lost my job before. We're fine now, but it puts a strain on the family, and I don't think they realize that."
Newman came to the meeting with her fiancé, Ricky Newman; daughter, Rickesha, 17; and son, Ricky Jr., 8.
Ricky Newman and Ricky Jr., shared a bag of candy during the meeting, while Reba Newman followed the proceedings, captivated.
“People don't understand,” Ricky Newman said. “They don't understand that business is leaving entirely… they aren't seeing the drastic picture.”