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USPS proposal to move service to Oklahoma City draws anger, frustration from public

The Fayetteville processing and distribution center would move some services to Oklahoma City and downsize its operations under the new USPS proposal.
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PBS Newshour
The Fayetteville processing and distribution center would move some services to Oklahoma City and downsize its operations under the new USPS proposal.

The United States Postal Service is looking to move one of its regional processing and distribution centers out of Northwest Arkansas and transfer services to Oklahoma City. The plan was laid out at a public input session at the Fayetteville Public Library last week.

According to USPS the move would cost the center at least 12 staff and one management position. However, Juan Jones, facilities director for the postal service, insisted during his presentation that the facility in Fayetteville was not closing.

He said that the current facility would become a local processing center. The decision, according to a press release from the postal service, is the result of a feasibility study to cut costs for the agency as part of a 10-year strategic "Delivering for America" plan.

Kaylyn Mills is the vice president of the local chapter of the American Postal Workers Union. She also works at the processing facility in Fayetteville and said reforms presented by the Postal Service are not the full picture.

"It would affect the delivery time," she said. "And it would all be going to Oklahoma City, which is an eight hour round trip."

She said the reform would now route local mail through the Oklahoma City plant some 220 miles away - the postal service says delivery time would not be distrupted.

Evelyn Rios Stafford is a Washington County Justice of the Peace and spoke against the move today and said that logic doesn't hold up.

"Well, there's a lot of unanswered questions, especially how this is going to affect mail service, how it's going to affect delivery times," Stafford said. "You know, as a representative for the county, there's a lot of mail that we send out that is very time sensitive, for example, jury summons, people are learning about their court dates, and things like that, mail related to the elections, there's a lot of different things that county government depends on the Postal Service for."

Winonna Kleser works for a gas and utilities company in the area and also voiced her concerns about the restructuring. She said the decision doesn't take into account all of the people who depend on mail service.

"Every day, I talk to customers that mail in their checks, and that received their bills by mail," she said. "And I'm already seeing problems with customers already... mail is delayed two or three weeks, their services are getting cut off, they have no way to get the information to us."

In total 27 people spoke against the decision to move service from the Fayetteville facility. All of them expressed dismay at the lack of information - the Postal Service did not take questions from the public - and at the timing of the meeting. Mills explained that this time of year in particular was difficult for postal worker to get time off.

"We didn't find out about that until three weeks ago," she said. "They're also supposed to make the time of the meeting in the evening so that more of the public can show up instead of at 3pm when they're picking up their kids from school or are still at work. And they unfortunately did not follow that."

Bob Stafford is a Fayetteville city council member and said the city council wasn't informed about the meeting either.

He says the council is working on a resolution to oppose the proposed move and says a change like this would have ripple effects in the local economy.

"It's about the jobs we may lose," he said. "There's also ancillary businesses, there's a Mail Co., Arkansas mail, different businesses that rely on that distribution center. How's it gonna affect them? How's it gonna affect my marketing business? So, so many unanswered questions."

Kaylyn Mills said this is the latest in a string of closures from the USPS across the country. And she believes the information provided by the post office was deliberately vague and did not align with what she says postal employees have been told.

"They used a bunch of words that only postal employees would understand not the everyday public, you know, my 85 year old grandmother, she's not going to know what any of that means," Mills said. "By giving you quotes saying that only 12 jobs are going to be effected. We know for a fact that's not what we're being told, we're being told it's going to be a lot more than that. And so it's frustrating to see that they're thinking that they're going to be able to just say what they want, and the public is supposed to just believe it."

A representative from USPS declined to comment on the record for this report, but said in an official written statement that the move would save at least $2.5 million a year once the change is implemented with $1.6 million of that in transportation costs with "minimal disruption to customer service."

Mills said she hopes people will dig into those statements.

"So I just hope that the public goes and talks to their carrier or their window clerk and sees how they feel about it and how it's going to impact them," She said.

The Fayetteville center employs more than 90 clerks, 50 mail carriers, 30 maintenance workers and at least 10 supervisors, according to Mills.

USPS did not set out a timeline for when the changes to Fayetteville's distribution center would occur, but they are taking public comments on the proposal through an online survey until December 21.

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Daniel Caruth is KUAF's Morning Edition host and reporter for Ozarks at Large<i>.</i>
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