Postal workers in Duluth just got good news: Some mail sorting will remain there, for now — a big change to the U.S. Postal Service's plan to move all processing to Eagan this week.
That plan had meant reassigning 66 of the mail processing center's employees to other jobs or facilities. But now, "no employees will be reassigned to different facilities at this time," said Peter Nowacki, a spokesman for the Postal Service.
"The workforce is ecstatic, excited, relieved," said Todd Fawcett, president of the Duluth chapter of the American Postal Workers Union.
It's less clear how the switch will affect customers. In fighting the shuttering of the mail processing center, union leaders and national lawmakers had warned that shifting the work to the Twin Cities would slow service, especially in rural areas.
In anticipation of the April 18 consolidation, the Postal Service had announced new, earlier collection times in cities across northeastern Minnesota. Those will still apply, Nowacki said.
Signs have popped up at post offices alerting residents to the earlier deadlines. Grand Rapids residents will have to get their mail in by 12:15 p.m. Babbitt by 10 a.m. Nett Lake by 7:30 a.m.
In Duluth, boxes that were once collected for a final time at 8 p.m. on weeknights will now be picked up at 3:15 p.m., according to the Duluth News Tribune.
The administrative assistant for the city of Babbitt, Wendy Schlueter, generally sends out paychecks on Thursdays, counting on Babbitt and Embarrass residents to get them Friday.
But given the earlier collection times and the slower delivery standards, she will soon have to put them in the mail "at least by Wednesday," she said, "to be fair."
The Postal Service, which does not rely on taxpayer dollars, has been consolidating its processing centers to grapple with a 53 percent decline over the past decade in first-class mail — things like letters, bills and birthday cards.
The consolidations are helping the Postal Service reinvest in more robust parts of its business, including packages, Nowacki said. "As letter mail volume falls, there's been great opportunities in package volume."
Duluth was one of about 80 processing center closures scheduled for this year. Last week, workers learned of their reprieve.
"Our plans had always indicated a need for some fluidity to reflect postal operational needs," Nowacki said by e-mail Friday. "In this case, we are extending the term for which we will continue destinating operations in the Duluth facility."
Mail could still head to a huge facility in Eagan for its first sort. But it'll be readied for delivery — a process called "destinating" — in Duluth. No one's saying for how long.
But still, the extension is significant, said Willie Mellon, a national business agent for the postal workers union. "It's unusual because historically, over the last four or five years, when management says they're going to do one of these closings … no matter what, it doesn't get stopped. Or once they do it, it doesn't get undone."
Union leaders suspect that the switch is partly due to the Postal Service struggling to find new positions for employees within 50 miles, a radius outlined in union contracts.
"I think the thing that's really driving it … is they have no place to put people," said Richard Haefner, president of the Minnesota Postal Workers Union.
Keeping some sorting in Duluth will be good for customers, Haefner predicted. "The service is not going to deteriorate to the level that it would have had everything moved to Eagan."