While awaiting approval of a change in its mail delivery standard, the U.S. Postal Service announced Thursday it would stop processing mail at eight sites in Kentucky, including Lexington's main office, as it seeks to cope with dramatically lower volumes of mail.
The other seven sites are in Bowling Green, Campton, Elizabethtown, Hazard, London, Paducah and Somerset.
A time frame has not been given for the moves, which will mean layoffs of hundreds of people as their work moves to other processing centers, including one in Louisville and multiple facilities in Tennessee. The centers getting their processing work will add employees, but the plan will result in the elimination of as many as 190 positions.
The major impact would be felt in Lexington, where about 300 workers will be affected at the Nandino Boulevard processing center. Their work will move to Louisville and Knoxville, and 103 positions will be cut, Postal Service spokesman David Walton said.
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The cuts will not have any effect on retail and bulk mail service at any of the locations, or on vehicle maintenance performed at the sites.
The Postal Service predicts it will save $9 million a year by moving mail-processing operations out of Lexington. The organization already has shuttered about 200 processing centers across the country. Lexington's was one of 250 being studied for possible consolidation as part of a plan aimed at reducing the organization's work force by 35,000 nationally.
The announcement came as the federal Postal Regulatory Commission weighs a request by the organization to extend its delivery standard. Its proposal would see the delivery time frame for first-class mail lengthened to a range of two to three days from a range of one to three days. The decision by the commission is not binding, so the Postal Service could proceed with its plan to change the standard and shutter the processing centers even if the commission rejected it.
Studies to decide which processing centers should be consolidated began five months ago and have included times for public comment that drew about 300 people in Lexington in November.
The consolidations would not occur before May 15; the Postal Service decided in December to impose a moratorium on closing or consolidating plants before that date to allow Congress and President Barack Obama's administration to consider alternatives.
In a statement Thursday, U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler, a Versailles Democrat, said he was "extremely disappointed" by the Postal Service's decision to close the Lexington plant. Chandler said he "will do everything I can to reverse this decision."
"I acknowledge the Postal Service faces pressures to downsize in this tough economy, but closing the Lexington facility is absolutely the wrong way to deal with its fiscal problems and could harm our region in the long run," he said.
Walton said the decision to consolidate operations was difficult, but "there are difficult decisions that have to be made."
"Any other industry making an announcement like this would be handing out pink slips right now," he said. "That's not how we work. We're going to work with our employees."
The Postal Service might consider early retirement options or other plans that could result in fewer layoffs because some employees could leave voluntarily.