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U.S. Postal Service's moves to shift mail sorting from Peoria to Chicago area raise eyebrows at public meeting

U.S. Postal Service trucks park outside a post office in Wheeling, Ill., Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
Nam Y. Huh/AP
U.S. Postal Service trucks park outside a post office in Wheeling, Ill., Monday, Jan. 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The United States Postal Service's proposal to shift some operations from Peoria to Chicago's south suburbs got some pushback at a public meeting on Wednesday.

As part of the proposal, mail sorting would be relocated from the Peoria Processing and Distribution Center to a facility in Bedford Park. That’s part of the USPS's 10-year, $40 billion "Delivering for America" plan to upgrade and improve the mail service.

According to the USPS, the process is in its facility review stage. USPS spokesperson Tim Norman said the initial findings support the business case for keeping the Peoria facility open while converting it into a local processing center.

Norman said the updated facility would offer expanded and streamlined package processing capabilities. He also said there would be no career employee layoffs, and pre-career employees would have a clear path toward becoming full-time employees.

But many at a public meeting Wednesday are skeptical of those claims. The USPS said 16 workers could be impacted.

Linda Turney, a national business agent with the American Postal Workers Union, expressed her concerns about the reduction of jobs and USPS’s claim about not laying anyone off.

“They have increased from eight people impacted to 16 people impacted, zero of which are managers, which is huge,” Turney said.

She wasn’t the only one who found that information concerning. Harold Toft, president of the Heart of Illinois American Postal Workers Union, pointed out how fast that number changed.

“Even what you put on paper saying eight, now it’s 16. What’s next?” Taft asked. “Are you going to change it to 35 tomorrow? Are you going to change what you’re doing tomorrow? You say a lot of things, but you’re not backing it up.”

According to Toft, what is actually hurting the post office is mismanagement, understaffing, removal of delivery standards, and other gradual changes.

Turney said when USPS says employees are impacted, that doesn’t mean fired or removed, but rather “forced excessing.” This means that if workers want to keep their union jobs, they may need to move to other facilities in the state, like the proposed Bedford Park.

“Impacting people means impacting families, children, schools, and businesses,“ Turney said. “It extends far beyond getting rid of a few employees, and it impacts everyone. It will certainly impact delivery.”

Additionally, many residents said they were concerned the proposal would create more delays in the mailing system, especially around medication, mail-in voting ballots, and other time-sensitive packages not arriving on time.

Bryan Wagner, immediate past national president of the National Association of Postal Supervisors, said the post office made previous operational changes intended to save money but ended up saving less than their projections showed.

According to Wagner, the office of the Inspector General for the Postal Service noted how USPS claimed they would save billions with previous operational changes, but only saved a few hundred million, only five percent of the expected savings.

“You’re going to try to save money and put high expectations on savings that in the past hasn’t come to fruition, and service got worse,” Wagner said. “They think it’s going to save money, and the numbers may look that way, but in the end when you put it into action, it doesn’t.”

The most concerning issue for Wagner, like Turney, is the USPS’s lack of clarity with their language in the proposal. Specifically, Wagner pointed to confusion about what mail is staying in Peoria to be processed locally.

“They call it, ‘destinating mail,’ but they didn’t define it,” Wagner continued. “Does that mean only mail with the 616 zip codes? If that’s the case, I live in Dunlap, the 615 zip code, that mail goes to South Suburban, Chillicothe, Morton, Pekin, Washington, and 614, the Galesburg area. That’s not clear.”

Wagner also has concerns with USPS saying the time of delivery of mail would not be affected, which he pointed out was technically true as the mail carrier schedule would not change. What would change, Wagner said, would be residents not getting the mail they were supposed to get because of delays with the processing of mail in South Suburban instead of Peoria.

Norman said does not believe mail will be delayed should the changes happen.

Congressmen Eric Sorensen and Darin LaHood wrote U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy a letter Tuesday requesting more information about the proposal, including the number of jobs impacted, accommodations for Peoria employees unwilling or unable to move to Bedford Park, and guarantees that moving operation will improve mail service.

Peoria is one of 58 locations nationally where the USPS has proposed similar changes. Others include Champaign, Springfield, and the Quad Cities.

The planned improvements to the Peoria facility include LED lights on the workroom floor, repaired and refinished flooring, and the removal of impediments to open process flow.

Additional improvements include rehabilitated dock areas, renovated employee amenities like restrooms, lockers, and break areas, repaired and renovated parking lots, and new vehicles, some of which will be electric.

Residents would also get access to new self-service tools, such as secure lobby access, smart lockers, large parcel drums, a rapid dropoff station, and a mobile app with a self-service station. The facility would also include biometric fingerprinting services as a security measure.

Norman said those upgrades will cost USPS $4 million in total.

No decision has been made about the proposal yet. USPS’s next step is to gather public feedback via an online survey. Comments submitted online and through the public feedback session will be taken into consideration before a final decision is made, Norman said.

Mike Smith is an correspondent with WCBU in Peoria. He joined the station in 2023.