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Speakers differ on Saturday mail plan

The people who run the U.S. Postal Service say they face a desperate financial situation, with billions of dollars in losses each year.

They say the elimination of Saturday home deliveries would cut more than $3 billion in annual costs and would be a major step toward saving the Postal Service from total collapse.

Mail carriers who work in the trenches see it differently.

"If we do this, we're decreasing the quality of our service and making it easier for our competitors to beat us," Robert J. McLennan, president of the Buffalo branch of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said Monday. "We're also going to be eliminating 40,000 to 50,000 jobs, good jobs, all over the country."

McLennan was one of about a dozen speakers who voiced opinions at a public hearing on the issue of eliminating Saturday home mail delivery. The hearing was sponsored by the Postal Regulatory Commission and held in the Buffalo Common Council chambers in City Hall.

It was the seventh and final public hearing for the commission, which will put together an advisory report that Congress will examine before making the decision on whether to eliminate Saturday mail delivery.

Most of the speakers either work for the Postal Service or for businesses that depend on the Postal Service to get their products out.

Kathleen Burns, who leads 6,800 employees in the region as manager of the Western New York division of the Postal Service, said she supports the Saturday cutbacks.

The increased use of e-mail and the Internet to pay bills has put the Postal Service in a "grim" situation, and "drastic action" is needed to cut costs, she said.

In the first quarter of 2010, the amount of mail handled in Western and Central New York was 23 percent lower than it was during the same period of 2005.

"The household and business customers to whom I talk all seem to understand that the Postal Service faces difficult choices and that no easy solutions lie within our grasp," Burns said.

The Postal Service said it finished its 2009 fiscal year with a net loss of $3.8 billion. The Postal Service receives no money from taxes and funds itself entirely with money it receives from customers for postage.

Several business people -- including J.B. Brown, manager of corporate products for Rich Products Corp., and Bill McComb, vice president for postal operations with Netflix -- said they will support the change but only if it is part of a plan to cut Postal Service expenses.

Very few companies use the Postal Service as much as Netflix, which ships about two million DVDs to its customers each business day. McComb said the company spends about $600 million on postage each year.

If Netflix had its choice, the Postal Service would deliver its DVDs seven days a week, not five, McComb said. But if eliminating Saturday deliveries would help the Postal Service save itself, Netflix would support the move.

Two very interested observers of the hearing were Jordan M. Small, vice president for network operations with the Postal Service, and Jim Berry of Lockport, a retired mail carrier.

Small, who spoke to The Buffalo News before the hearing, said the Postal Service has made many changes nationwide to consolidate operations and cut costs. He said the Postal Service expects those changes to save $3.5 billion a year, but it still needs to make more cuts.

"Our business model is broken, and the situation is grave, unless we're able to make needed changes, including five-day delivery," Small said.

Berry, 64, stood at the back of the Council spectators area, holding up a cardboard sign protesting the plan to cut Saturday deliveries.

He told reporters that senior citizens who depend on the mail for pension checks, Social Security checks and prescription drugs will be hurt the most if Saturday service is stopped.

"I'm concerned about my pension check. If the first of the month comes on a Saturday, I wouldn't get my check until Monday," Berry said. "Same for anybody who gets a Social Security check. How about medicines coming in from the VA? It's not right."

e-mail: dherbeck@buffnews.com

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