Postal workers protest processing move

Michelle Anstett

Dozens of postal workers stood outside the Downtown post office processing center on Monday afternoon to protest what one worker called "an ill-advised decision" on the part of officials.

As of Jan. 7, U.S. Postal Service priority mail no longer will be processed in Peoria. Instead, all priority packages will be carted off to Champaign, where they will be sorted by two small bundle parcel sorters, new technology in the postal trade, said Brian Wagner, spokesman for the Peoria post office.

"We’re looking at being more efficient for our customers," he said. "(Priority delivery) will be seamless."

The Peoria priority department, which employs about 15 workers and hand-sorts all packages, will be closed. Those employees, Wagner said, will stay on but "will have other duty assignments."

American Postal Workers’ Union local President Bob Gunter said he has faced his share of red tape in trying to discover the logistics of the planned move. "We’ve requested all sorts of information," including the post office’s transportation plans following the change, "but they sure aren’t sharing it with us."

One of his biggest beefs with those higher up is the lack of public input in the original decision. However, he believes there still may be time to reverse that, which was the aim of Monday’s informational picket.

"We would like the public to know what’s happening, and then they can request a public hearing" by contacting area legislators. "Let the public have some input," he said.

The Peoria center currently processes an average of 9,000 to 10,000 pieces of priority mail a day and services an area stretching from the Iowa border to Roanoke, and from Henry to Astoria. Around the holidays, the number of packages jumps to about three times the usual amount.

While all priority mail still will come through Peoria, it will be in the form of what Wagner called a "dock transfer," meaning the center will simply transfer bags of priority packages from an inbound truck to one headed for Champaign.

"(Customers) should see an improvement in service" as a result of the speed of the machines, he added.

But workers aren’t convinced.

"Having the mail travel (to Champaign) and travel back, that’s not going to be any faster," said Ed Kahoun of Canton, who has worked with the post office for almost nine years, mostly in the priority department. He fears he may have to find a job elsewhere, as he said he hasn’t been told about his future with the Postal Service.

Tonia Burton of Galesburg faces the same potential fate, but her fear has a history. She spent 10 years working at the Postal Service’s remote encoding center at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport, but moved to the Downtown office when the center closed in 2005. "When they told me (of the second closure), I’m like, another job, someplace else," she said Monday.

Michelle Anstett can be reached at (309) 686-3196 or manstett@pjstar.com.