Complaints about mail service and strong objections to sending North Platte mail to Denver for processing were constant at a public meeting Thursday night, March 28.

Early in the meeting, the audience of about 200 loudly hooted when a USPS manager said that there would no significant delay in delivery times, despite the fact that mail would travel 250 miles to Denver and back.

The meeting, required by law, was held at North Platte’s Sandhills Convention Center. According to USPS, it is the final step in a review that leads to moving mail processing to Denver. The postal service was represented by two managers – one from Nebraska and one from Kansas City.

USPS management

Eliminating about 60 USPS processing centers in the U.S. is part of a $40 billion, 10-year plan to cut postal service costs and upgrade services.

Under the 10-year plan, the Denver processing center would process mail not only from North Platte, but from several states, including Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, New Mexico as well as Grand Junction, Colo. on the west side of the Rocky Mountains.

Neither Wyoming nor South Dakota would have a full processing center. The only one in Kansas would be in Kansas City. The only one in Nebraska would be in Omaha.

USPS predicts moving North Platte’s mail processing to Denver would save about $1 million a year in transportation costs. But a banker at the meeting said after analyzing the proposal, no money would be saved; instead, costs would increase, and service would decline.

The two managers repeatedly said USPS will adhere to its legal obligation to provide universal service, and first-class mail would still be delivered within two days. But they provided little evidence of that. They often urged everyone to submit additional comments through an online survey by Survey Monkey. However, those who filled out the survey said they were blocked after submitting a single comment.

Others pointed out that by USPS measurements, it already takes first-class mail an average of 3.4 days to move from Denver to Nebraska destinations.

Gary Person, the president of the North Platte Area Chamber of Commerce, noted that Denver is rated as one of the most inefficient processing centers in the U.S.

“It will not work,” a former worker said.

A former postal worker described Denver as a “black hole” for mail.

“It will not work,” he said. “Denver has had 20 years of experience in not letting it work.”

Lincoln County Commissioner Joe Hewgley recently told KNOP-TV that during the pandemic, the Denver center had to send Colorado mail to North Platte for processing because they could not keep up.

A retired postal supervisor with 30 years of experience advised USPS to leave North Platte alone.

“I worked with Omaha and Denver,” he said. “I never liked Denver.”

A North Platte resident noted that I-80 and I-76 – the highways from North Platte to Denver — are closed 3-4 times each winter because of stormy weather.

A resident said the North Platte area is growing, with a $350 million beef processing plant under construction, and recruitment underway for the “Port of the Plains” to receive and ship goods to and from overseas. New businesses are frequently opening.

He advised the postal service to expand in North Platte.

A resident starts the public comment session.

Secretive process

North Platte Bulletin Publisher George Lauby as well as Person criticized the lack of required transparency in the review process.

USPS did not send a press release to the news media about the review until a week before the public meeting. Before then, news reporters, workers and city and county officials scrambled to find out about it on their own.

“If it hadn’t been for one brave postal worker, we would not have known about it,” Person said at the meeting.

Lisa Watson, the president of Local 619 of the American Postal Workers Union, let the press know that the “public” announcement of the review was posted Jan. 10 on a hard-to-find website. The Bulletin promptly reported the situation to help spread the word.

Person and the Chamber board of directors invited Watson to their next meeting. Person informed businesses and other officials, including Sen. Deb Fischer. Fischer joined the chorus of protests.

But Person said it’s been impossible to learn any details of the general plan.

“I’ve spent six weeks trying to talk to someone from USPS. It’s like they are under a gag order,” he said.

Hewgley and Lauby said they went to lengths to get information, without success. Hewgley was told of an USPS public information office on the East Coast, and contacted them, but they never responded.

Lauby said there are no direct phone numbers for Nebraska postal services, only an 800 number with a series of recorded messages. He said in the previous week, after finally receiving a press release that said North Platte would be open as a “local processing center,” he asked the sender — Strategic Communications Specialist Mark Inglett — by email to describe what North Platte as a local processing center would do.

He received no answer.

Lauby then contacted Grand Island city officials and the newspaper to find out if there is still some kind of local processing center in that city, and if so, what it does, but no one knew. The best they could do was refer him to the USPS 800 number. After working through USPS recorded menus for about 10 minutes, he reached a person in business mail, customer care. She did not know.

Bad service now, would get worse

Several people said the mail service is critical to them, and already slow at times, and will only get worse going to North Platte and back.

Among the complaints voiced, people spoke of Priority Mail that was sent to opposite part so the country, landing hundreds of miles from the destination, according to the postal service’s own tracking and reporting system.

Lauby said it sometimes takes a week for a newspaper from North Platte to reach customers in Lincoln and Omaha, although that should be a half-day trip.

A woman from Red Cloud, Neb. said it takes a week for mail from Red Cloud to reach the next town, after it first goes to Omaha and back, with unexplained delays along the way.

Nancy Seifer Nelson of Sutherland said her family’s pasture chicken business can no longer rely on the postal service to deliver baby chicks. She said they used to order 10,000 chicks from a hatchery in Norfolk and the chicks would arrive the day after they were hatched.

She said the trip would kill the chicks now.

Sandhills residents spoke of mail delays of several days.

A North Platte church member said it recently took four days for a paycheck mailed from the church business office to reach the pastor’s home.

A resident said she has three days to deposit her paycheck, which is mailed, in the bank before automatic payments are withdrawn. If the mail is late, she is overdrawn.

Inefficiencies

A truck driver who contracted with USPS to help haul Christmas packages out of Denver said semi-trailers are not packed tightly with packages anymore. He said they used to be hand-packed at Christmas time. He would help. Now, when the floors of trailers are covered with totes of packages, the truck is considered full.

Mayor’s question

Mayor Brandon Kelliher

Near the end of the meeting, North Platte Mayor Brandon Kelliher thanked the manager for coming out, and said there appears to be a lack of trust in the USPS review and decision process.

“I have no confidence that sending mail to Denver and back will improve service,” Kelliher said. “I’m sorry, I just don’t.”

He’s heard from a counterpart in Wisconsin whose mail service was moved to northern Iowa, and the lags in delivery increased.

Kelliher asked how the success of the proposed move would be measured.

The USPS manager said the company would maintain the two-day service (first-class mail) standard.
She added that when the two-day standard is not met, efforts are made to improve the logistics. That typically means adjusting the the timing of trucks that arrive and leave distribution centers, so they don’t miss each other.

In response to Kelliher’s repeated question, she said the proposed changes would bring no additional ways of helping management better track the flow of mail, and thereby improve it.

He did not seem to be reassured.

Jobs

Throughout the meeting, workers expressed concern about the loss of jobs. They were told that no career workers have ever been laid off from the postal service, nor would they be.

However, USPS also said that more than $100,000 a year would be saved in North Platte by cutting one management position and five other positions. Career employees apparently would be transferred elsewhere to keep their jobs. If someone retires or resigns, they would not be replaced.

One woman said the North Platte center has previously lost about 20 jobs in recent years, from positions that were not filled after someone retired or left for other reasons.

Jeff Cooley, the president of the Midwest Nebraska Central Labor Council, an umbrella organization of unions in the state, was one of the last to speak.

Cooley called the meeting a smokescreen. He predicted that more than 20 jobs would be lost in North Platte.

Near the end of about 80 minutes of public comments, someone asked, “What if it doesn’t work? What is our recourse?”

He was told no other recourses are planned.

The postal managers urged people to file written comments through a “survey monkey” link. Those comments must be submitted by April 12. The link is HERE.

Person and Lauby wonder how the public will know if the comments are really considered since the process is not transparent. They are continuing to press for an answer to that question.

Afterwards, USPS spokesman Mark Inglett did not answer when asked what mail would be processed in Denver and what would be processed in North Platte. Nor did he answer questions about the survey results — including where the public could see the answers.


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