Fayette County

Lexington mail processing could move to Louisville, Knoxville

Rosiland Walker, center, and Wanda Gentry, right, worked as temporary clerks sorting packages during the Christmas holiday season of 2006 at the post office on Nandino Boulevard.
Rosiland Walker, center, and Wanda Gentry, right, worked as temporary clerks sorting packages during the Christmas holiday season of 2006 at the post office on Nandino Boulevard.

Roughly 184 jobs at Lexington's postal processing center on Nandino Boulevard could be in jeopardy as the U.S. Postal Service tries to pull itself back to financial health.

Lexington is one of 250 processing centers nationwide, and one of seven in Kentucky that will be studied in the next three to four months to see whether it makes sense to consolidate services, according to an announcement Thursday from the U.S. Postal Service. More than 35,000 jobs across the country could be affected, with savings of $3.5 billion.

The local study will look at whether it would be more economical to move all of the mail processing from Lexington, splitting it between the Louisville and Knoxville processing centers.

Nationwide, the postal service is looking at adjusting service standards. For example, it might take two days to deliver first-class mail instead of only one.

In the past five years, mail volume has dropped by 43 billion pieces, and last year, the service was $8.5 billion in the red. Roughly half of all Americans now pay their bills online.

"This is a study," said USPS spokesman David Walton in Louisville, "and there's a lot that goes into these studies. We have to look at how one piece of the puzzle affects 10 or 20 other pieces."

A public meeting will be held in Lexington in November, Walton said.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray has been talking to postal officials for several months.

"Unfortunately, today's national announcement represents a change in direction from earlier discussions with local postal service officials," said Geoff Reed, senior adviser to Gray. "We all thought there would be a longer timeline and that the cutbacks envisioned would not be as severe. We are planning further discussions with representatives of the postal service as to exactly what this new directive means to Lexington."

In Kentucky, other shifts in processing could include:

■ Campton to Louisville

■ Bowling Green to Evansville, Ind., and Nashville

■ Elizabethtown to Louisville

■ Hazard to Knoxville

■ London to Knoxville

■ Paducah to Evansville, Ind.

■ Somerset to Knoxville

Sorting centers in Pike-ville and Ashland already have been closed and the work transferred to West Virginia.

Some people's jobs could be moved to other centers, Walton said. Nationally, he said, the average age of those affected is 52, and 54 percent of them are eligible for retirement.

However, Randy Bradley of the local American Postal Workers Union in Lexington said postal workers will fight back.

"It's nonsense," he said. "It beats me how this would save money if mail has to go to Knoxville before it's returned to Lexington. There are other ways to reconstruct from what they're doing."

The APWU is pushing a bill in the U.S. House that would allow pre-payments to the post service's retirement funds to be used to help balance the books.

They may get some help from Congressman Ben Chandler, D-Kentucky.

"The processing center here in Lexington provides many Kentuckians with good jobs," Chandler said in a statement Thursday. "I realize the United States Postal Service has operating concerns, but the Lexington processing center is a crucial facility that provides an invaluable service for our region. This situation will be closely monitored, and I will continue to advocate to keep jobs in Central Kentucky."

The processing centers aren't the only ones affected by cutbacks: 131 post offices, many of them in rural Kentucky, are being studied for closure.

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