In its effort to cut $2 billion in costs and stave off financial disaster, the U.S. Postal Service is planning to end Saturday home delivery as of Aug. 1, except for packages, and trim operations at some 13,000 smaller post offices across the nation.
Eight Berkshire County post offices and one in nearby Middlefield are affected, according to Postal Service regional spokesperson Christine Dugas, through a menu of service reductions proposed and in the process of approval -- mostly cutbacks in retail counter and window hours.
"This is one of the many strategies the Postal Service is pursuing to reduce costs and try to build revenue," said Dugas on Wednesday from her office in Providence, R.I., where she covers facilities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
The Postal Service is in the midst of a major restructuring throughout its retail, delivery and mail processing operations. Since 2006, it has cut annual costs by about $15 billion, reduced the size of its career workforce by 193,000 or by 28 percent, and has consolidated more than 200 mail processing locations, officials say. The agency's biggest problem -- and the majority of the red ink in 2012 -- was not due to reduced mail flow but rather to mounting mandatory costs for future retiree health benefits.
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff
The reaction from local U.S. Postal Service customers ranges from "can do without" and "it will save money" to the expectation that more cutbacks are likely.
The U.S. Postal Service announced Wednesday that it's eliminating mail delivery on Saturdays in an effort to save the cash-strapped agency $2 billion annually. Packages would still be on a six-day schedule, while post offices would continue to be open on Saturdays though some on shorter hours.
Outside the Dalton and Pittsfield post offices on Wednesday, customers weren't surprised by the five-day delivery schedule. Some even welcomed the change.
"I think it will save them money," said Edie Mulligan of Dalton. "I know I could live without it."
"Doesn't bother me," added Tom Halstead of Pittsfield. "It's just one less day of getting junk mail and bills."
Several people acknowledged that the cutback is necessary, citing how the U.S. Postal Service can't compete as more people pay bills online and get packages delivered by other companies.
"If no Saturday mail helps the Postal Service survive, so be it," said Scott Lamb of Stockbridge, a former independent U.S. Mail contractor from Washington state.
Nevertheless, a handful of postal customers were disappointed to hear about the demise of Saturday mail delivery.
"It doesn't make sense because people still count on the mail - even on weekends," said Louisa Dugan of Pittsfield.
Given the U.S. Postal Service recorded an annual loss of $15.9 billion for the past budget year and has forecasted another deficit in 2013, are more service cutbacks likely? The question received mixed reviews.
"I feel more are coming," said Tom Halstead.
"I don't foresee that happening in the near future," replied Pittsfield resident Art James.
To reach Dick Lindsay: firstname.lastname@example.org or (413) 496-6233.
The cutbacks at the local post offices, which are being rolled out gradually and may take well into next year to complete, are aimed at village and small town post offices with their own zip codes that usually are not far from larger facilities.
In the Berkshires, the affected post offices are in two of the five villages that comprise the town of New Marlborough. Others include East Otis, which will the first one to undergo changes; Ashley Falls, a village on the Connecticut border within Sheffield; Glendale, an outpost in Stockbridge near the Norman Rockwell Museum and Chesterwood; Lenox Dale; the town of Sandisfield; and South Lee, halfway between Stockbridge and Lee.
Customers in all those locales either have been or will be surveyed on their preferences, followed by public meetings and final decisions. Survey options include closing a post office -- the least popular, Dugas pointed out; relocation of post office boxes; limited retail service to a nearby store or library; and a reduction of counter hours, the most favored of the choices. Customers preferring the service reduction are asked to indicate their choice of open hours.
Layoffs of career Postal Service employees will be averted, according to Dugas, who explained that the agency's strategy is to reduce 35,000 letter-carrier and supervisory positions through attrition.
"Most of us are baby boomers in the latter stages of our careers," she said.
There could be some "staff adjustments" on a case-by-case basis, usually affecting postmaster positions, she said. Facilities open to retail customers for fewer than eight hours a day would be managed by a supervisor at a nearby post office.
In East Otis, residents who were surveyed favored a cutback from eight to six hours on weekdays, with Saturday hours from 8 to 11 a.m. unchanged. As of Feb. 23, the post office there will be open from 8 a.m. to noon, and then from 2 to 4 p.m. For box holders, the lobby will remain open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Middlefield customers in adjacent Hampshire County supported the proposal to cut counter hours in half, down to four per day. Details and the date the changes take effect are to be announced, said Dugas.
Here is a list of proposed reductions from eight hours of current weekday service at other Berkshire County community post offices:
- Ashley Falls: 6 hours
- Glendale: 4 hours
- Lenox Dale: 6 hours
- Mill River: 4 hours
- Sandisfield: 6 hours
- South Lee: 4 hours
- Southfield: 6 hours
(Note: Ashley Falls is in Sheffield; Glendale is in Stockbridge; Mill River and Southfield are villages within New Marlborough.)
On the web: Town-by-town details are available at www.usps.com under "find locations."
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.
To contact Clarence Fanto:
or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto