Council joins workers and customers to save post office

by Eric Ginsburg

They’ve done it before and they’ll do it again: Greensboro city council members passed a resolution to try and keep the Four Seasons Mall post office open and to restore the extended operating hours, similar to a failed attempt to keep the Banking Street location off Battleground open.

“When the post office closed at Banking Street, it really was a problem for people and businesses,” at-large Councilwoman Nancy Vaughan said. “It’s a true inconvenience for everyone.”

The cost associated with changing PO box addresses for businesses and the subsequent overcrowding of other post offices had a negative impact on customers, and since employees were relocated Vaughan said she didn’t think the move saved much money. The Four Seasons location is one of the few passport sites in town, and the wait for an appointment to apply for a passport is already way too long, which is just one of the reasons Vaughan said she opposed the possible closure.

After hearing from former postal workers, customers and the current president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 711, council voted unanimously in favor of the resolution.

Postal workers have been publicly fighting closures locally for months, receiving strong support as the marched in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Greensboro in January. A dozen postal employees and their supporters attended the council meeting for the May 1 vote.

Carl Walton, a spokesman for the US Postal Service in the Greensboro area, said that no office was under consideration “until after May 15” when a moratorium on closures and consolidations ends.

“It is not slated to close,” Walton wrote in an email. “If it ever is, there is a process to be fol lowed that includes customer feedback.”

A sign on the Four Seasons post office says the postal service agreed to delay the closing “of any Post Office or mail processing facility until May 15, 2012.” Later in a telephone interview, Walton acknowledged that the Four Seasons location had been considered for closure, but wouldn’t say why.

“There may have been talk about it before but there is nothing official on the agenda or in the plans to have it closed,” he said. “Every part of our operation is always under review to see if we can do things in a more efficient manner, in a way that we can keep costs down and keep them from transferring to the customer.”

Mayor Robbie Perkins, who brought the resolution forward, said it couldn’t hurt to be proactive and try to keep all of the city’s post offices open. Perkins said he does not know whether the postal service will try to close the Four Seasons location after May 15, but said he is hopeful it will stay open.

“It’s an issue of service in the community,” he said. “There are a lot of people who were upset when Banking Street was closed.”

At-large Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter used to frequent the Four Seasons location, which was usually open until 9 p.m. and operated seven days a week until a number of cuts were implemented.

“My understanding was that there was a list of those that would be closed and Four Seasons was not on that list as of December but then it was on a list,” she said. “Usually employees and other postal workers have a good sense of what is going on in the organization. I hope [the postal service] realizes the truly valuable service this has to our community, especially with the extended hours.”

Abuzuaiter said she hopes the postal service recognizes there is a community outcry to keep the location open and won’t try to close it after May 15.Greensboro resident and NC Area Fourrepresentative of the National Association ofLetter Carriers Richard Kortiz requested thatcouncil modify the language of the resolutionto request that the extended hours be restored aswell and that a copy be sent to the postmastergeneral and the chair of the Postal RegulatoryCommission.Council accepted both of the changes.

Theresolution already called on the congressionaldelegation for the area work to ensure the FourSeasons location remains open.Some retired postal workers said they see thepotential closure, which was just one of morethan 3,700 nationwide recommended by thepostmaster general, as part of a pattern of attackson the public service that could ultimatelyeliminate it and pave the way for private deliverycompanies to take over.

“The postal service is on a suicide missionfrom within,” OW Sweeney said. “Across thiscountry, if the post offi ce closed they would dothe people a terrible disservice.”Sweeney, who spoke to council, expected theresolution to pass but was shocked that the votewas unanimous.The Four Seasons location is a microcosmof what is happening to the postal serviceacross the country, retired Local 711 presidentMark Diamondstein said. He was there whenthe Four Seasons offi ce opened more than20 years ago and has watched the cuts overtime. Sunday service was the fi rst to go, thenWednesday and now the offi ce closes at 5 p.m.he said.

There’s a national push to close morethan 3,700 post offi ces, to cut back from six tofi ve under attack nationwide,” Diamondsteinsaid. “The motivation is the people who wantto make a profi t on it.”Koritz agreed, and said people on Wall Streetwant to get rich off dismantling and privatizingthe postal system.

“Wall Street, at least a signifi cant portion ofit, is interested in getting a hold of this trilliondollar postal industry,” Koritz said. “PostmasterGeneral Donahue is clearly trying to dismantlethe postal service. He’s working for someof these forces. It’s one more thing thatWall Street is trying to take away from thepeople.”

The postmaster general is appointed by thepostal board of governors, which is appointedby the US president.Some, including Abuzuaiter, said they hadbeen told business at the Four Seasons offi ceslowed down, but that it correlated with thecuts in service, not in demand. The locationis now closed Sunday and Wednesday andhas restricted hours. Last Wednesday threepeople separately arrived at the post offi ce inless than fi ve minutes, not realizing it wouldbe closed.Wearing a Korean War veteran hat, ThurmanBrigman said he uses the Four Seasonsoffi ce regularly.“It’s close to me in my home,” he said.

“[There’s] no sense in me driving fi ve milesand having to wait.”Opponents of the potential closure believeresidents like Brigman will indeed wait inlong lines at other locations and are alreadylacking access to the postal service at convenienttimes — namely after 4 p.m. consideringother locations have cut back servicehours.

Diamondstein and other former postal workerssaid they were hopeful they could defeat theclosure and restore hours at the Four Seasonssite, but said they only thought it wouldsucceed if more customers joined them. Heapplauded council’s unanimous support, andsaid the Four Seasons post offi ce was one ofthe most unique offi ces in the country in termsof what it offered customers.

Yet beyond service to patrons, there ismore at stake nationally, he said.“In the heart of this economic crisis…if these changes go through, there will behundreds of thousands of good jobs lost,”Diamondstein said, adding that the postalservice is customer — and not taxpayer —funded. “We should always remember thatthe post offi ce is fi rst and foremost a publicservice, the people’s post office.”

‘Usually employees and other postal workers have a good sense of what is going on in the organization. I hope [the postal service] realizes the truly valuable service this has to our community, especially with the extended hours.’

Greensboro City Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter