Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Citing the support of Sens. Jon Tester and Steve Daines, postal workers from Missoula called upon the City Council to ask the U.S. Postal Service to reconsider a proposal that could move the local processing center to Washington state.

On Monday night, postal workers expressed concern about the proposal, issued by the postmaster general, to move the Processing and Distribution Center from Missoula to Spokane in what the agency described as a cost-saving move.

But doing so, local postal agents said, would be rife with problems – some related to winter travel – and ultimately impact the delivery of vital and timely mail delivery in Missoula and across western Montana.

“How much longer will it take for our businesses and citizens to receive crucial delivery of U.S. mail? How much longer for Social Security checks? How much longer for Medicare and Medicaid benefits? How much longer for critical medications for veterans?” asked letter operator Shawn Harding.

“We hope you will join our federal representatives and our fellow citizens in a publicized denunciation of this plan and take action to prevent implementation to help guarantee our current mail delivery standards and protect the business and jobs of Missoulians and Montanans,” he added.

Harding was among several postal workers to address the City Council on Monday night to criticize the U.S. Postal Service's “Delivering for America” plan. The plan was published in a notice of intent to consolidate roughly 30 processing and distribution centers, including those in Missoula, Yakima and Grand Junction.

Suzanne La Grange, who recently retired after 25 years as a postal clerk – including 16 years in the processing center – said the organization's plan doesn't tell the entire truth. The goals of the plan won't be met, and customers will suffer, she said.

“Knowing what I know about mail processing, there is no way that move will improve service or save money,” said La Grange. “If the Postal Service moves forward with this plan, there's no doubt jobs will be lost. They can't move more than half the work to Spokane and continue to employ the same number of career employees in Missoula.”

She said the local center employs around 200 people, with more than half being career employees who rely upon mail processing for their jobs. That includes a large number of veterans, she said.

Earlier this month, Sens. Tester and Daines issued letters urging Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to reconsider relocating the local processing center. The center was one of roughly 30 facilities listed in a plan to “modernize and repurpose” the postal network.

“The Missoula (center) is a critical part of postal operations in Montana,” Tester said in his letter. “If processing were to be moved out of state, mail would get sent from Missoula more than 200 miles over two mountain passes to Spokane to be sorted before any of it is sent back to be delivered.”

Daines expressed similar concerns.

“I have serious concerns about potential out-of-state mail routing as well as any possibility of job losses in Missoula,” Daines wrote. “While I appreciate the efforts of the USPS to modernize and improve services, I urge you to maintain existing operations at the Missoula (center) as part of any future plans.”

Several members of the Missoula City Council on Monday also expressed support for local postal workers and their call to keep the center located in Missoula.

“For me, as part of this picture, is that a lot of people are online for communications. But a lot of people aren't and for them the mail is a crucial lifeline,” said council member Gwen Jones. “It can be age-based or resource-based. But getting timely mail is a vital tool for our modern world.”

Council member Mike Nugent joined several others in expressing support.

“I have no doubt there's plenty of support for what you (postal employees) are doing up here on this body, and we'll put our heads together to figure how we can be of support,” said Nugent.