Postal Service is hiring despite threat of closure

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Postal Service’s William Street processing center, where upwards of 700 jobs are in limbo while officials ponder whether to close the facility, is hiring.

No, that is not a typo. Nor is the sign on the fence outside the building — which says “We deliver . . . jobs”—a mistake.

The facility is hiring up to 35 temporary workers to cope with the seasonal ebbs and flows of postal delivery, Karen Mazurkiewicz, the Postal Service spokeswoman in Western New York, said Thursday.

To the Postal Service, such hires — sanctioned under a 2011 union contract — are a common-sense way to cope with the Christmastime mail rush and summertime vacation period.

But to some who are fighting to save the William Street postal facility, the hiring notice is just one more sign that the Postal Service’s right hand might not know what its left is doing.

“It’s a continuation of the conflicting information we’ve been receiving from the Postal Service,” said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who is leading the fight to save the postal processing facility. “Here they are advertising to hire at the same time they’re proposing to disrupt the lives of 700 workers.”

Higgins held a news conference Thursday in Buffalo with executives from the printing and mailing industries to protest the proposed William Street closure.

Among those at the conference, the Postal Service’s new hiring plans took a back seat to larger concerns — namely how local businesses would be affected by the closure.

“The health of the printing industry in Western New York and the United States, and the health of the Postal Service are pretty much intertwined,” Timothy Freeman, president of the Printing Industries Alliance, a Buffalo-based industry group, said in an interview.

More than 5,000 people work in the printing industry in the Buffalo area, Freeman said. He said that because half of all printed material is mailed, any decline in postal delivery standards would put printers at a disadvantage in the Internet age while increasing advertising costs and threatening jobs.

Under the Postal Service proposal, mail delivery would slow as the Postal Service closes more than 250 mail processing facilities nationwide. The bulk of the work that’s now done on William Street would shift to Rochester, which, the Postal Service says, is a more central location.

But Stephen Zenger, president of the Zenger Group, a local printing company, said that analysis fails to take into account Buffalo’s proximity to Canada. A large number of Canadian businesses use the William Street facility to ship materials across the U. S., just like Buffalo-area printers do.

“We believe much of this volume will disappear if the Buffalo center is closed,” Zenger said.

Mazurkiewicz, the Postal Service spokeswoman, countered by saying that the Postal Service plans to keep its Business Mail Entry Unit operating at William Street even if most of the facility’s operations are moved to Rochester.

That would mean nothing would change for big business shippers — but Higgins said he feared their reprieve would only be temporary. After all, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., the Postal Service kept open a business mail unit when the local processing center closed, only to shutter the Wilkes-Barre business mail operation six months later.

Today is the last day for the public to comment on the proposed closure of the William Street processing center. Mazurkiewicz said the Postal Service will decide the facility’s fate within a couple of weeks, with a closure coming in May if that’s what’s agreed upon.

As for the hiring of additional employees at a time when the mail processing center is proposed for closure, Mazurkiewicz said: “We’re hiring in Buffalo because no decision has been made [about the facility’s fate], and we have a business to run.”

Frank Resetarits, president of the Buffalo local of the American Postal Workers Union, said employees at the William Street facility understand the need for temporary additional hiring, which the union agreed to in its most recent contract negotiations

But what they don’t understand is what will happen if the Postal Service sticks with its decision to move the bulk of its William Street operation to Rochester.

“People are very stressed and very uncomfortable,” he said.

jzremski@buffnews.comnull

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