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Postmaster reaffirms pledge on William Street transfer timeline

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Postal Service will stick to its word to not transfer employees from its William Street mail processing facility to Rochester until 2015, and is exploring ways of maintaining next-day delivery in as many places as possible despite consolidations such as the one facing the 700-employee Buffalo facility, Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said Friday.

In a brief interview after an appearance at the National Press Club, the postmaster general addressed ongoing concerns that the agency might transfer most of its Buffalo processing operations to Rochester in the coming months despite a vow to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., that the move would not take place until 2015.

“We’ve said we’re not going to move any people” before 2015, Donahoe said. “Now if a person wants to transfer because they have a family and want to get closer to home, they’re free to do that. As we’ve said, this is a phased-in change, and there’s no intention to change that schedule at this point.”

Employee transfers would happen in 2015 “if there was to be a transfer,” Donahoe said. “What we’ve been trying to do is work down the jobs so if a clerk wants to become a letter carrier so they can do that, then they do not have to go to Rochester.”

Donahoe’s comments came after a luncheon speech at the Press Club in which he outlined his agency’s grave financial situation and its suggestions to Congress for how to fix it.

With its mail volume plummeting in the Internet era, the agency lost $15.9 billion last year alone, despite a plan to close dozens of mail processing facilities nationwide.

The proposal to close the William Street facility and transfer its operations to Rochester prompted a huge outcry from local members of Congress and mixed signals from the Postal Service as to when that closure would actually occur.

Donahoe’s comments after the speech seemed to allay concerns that the closure could happen more quickly, which stemmed from internal Postal Service emails earlier this year that indicated the shift to Rochester could begin as soon as this June.

Donahoe was asked the question about Buffalo a second time after laughing it off when asked about the timeline of the closure during the formal question-and-answer session that followed his Press Club speech.

In those comments from the podium, Donahoe did not address the timetable for the closure of the William Street facility.

But he did note that the Buffalo closure raises concerns about whether the Postal Service could continue to deliver all first-class intra-city mail in Buffalo overnight, as it currently does. That’s because the proposal entails shipping all of Buffalo’s first-class mail to Rochester for processing before returning it to Buffalo for delivery.

“The one thing we’ve been worried about is not putting a whole lot of that overnight [delivery] at risk,” Donahoe said.

And while last year’s closures didn’t threaten much overnight delivery, “Buffalo starts to bend that curve,” as do some other large communities where processing facilities are set to be closed.

“We’ve just got to make sure we’ll work through that in terms of trying to preserve as much of that overnight service” as possible, Donahoe said.

Upon hearing the question about Buffalo from the Press Club president, Donahoe broke out laughing. He then appeared to allude to the pressure he’s faced from Schumer and Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, to keep the Buffalo facility open.

“It depends on how I answer this question whether I get a phone call this afternoon,” he said.

Donahoe’s response did nothing to impress Higgins, who repeated his call for Donahoe’s resignation.

“His general attitude was dismissive and disrespectful of people he’s obliged to serve,” Higgins said.

Noting that the Postal Service has never delivered a “clear and compelling” rationale for closing the Buffalo facility, Higgins also didn’t put much stock in Donahoe’s comments that local postal jobs will not be transferred to Rochester until 2015.

“With him, these things are always subject to change,” Higgins said.