Friday, December 26, 2008

Peace on Earth ...

Keweenaw Now wishes all our readers a very peaceful holiday season. May you all enjoy peace, health and happiness in the approaching New Year! May 2009 be a year of hope rather than fear, a year of community rather than isolation, a year of thinking and acting globally for a better world. (Photo © 2008 Gustavo Bourdieu)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hancock Post Office faces possible downsizing

By Michele Bourdieu (Photos by Gustavo Bourdieu)

HANCOCK -- The Hancock City Council, at their Dec. 17 meeting, approved sending a letter to the U.S. Postal Service, U.S. Representative Bart Stupak and Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin concerning a proposal to significantly downsize the Hancock Post Office, redeploying up to 12 employees to the Houghton Post Office.

The Hancock Post Office, located in the center of downtown, is convenient and accessible to residents and non-residents alike. Click on photos for larger versions. (Photos © 2008 Gustavo Bourdieu)

Hancock City Manager Glenn Anderson said the downsizing was scheduled to be implemented in January but is now on hold.

"It's on hold because of union issues -- nothing else," Anderson explained. "Employees of both post offices are in the same union, but if Hancock employees change to Houghton there would be seniority changes, and that's what's holding it up."

Anderson said downsizing plan would leave only three employees at the Hancock Post Office, for the service counter. The post office boxes used by the public would also remain.

"Are we going to take this lying down?" Mayor Bill Laitila asked the Council.

The councilors were unanimous in their support of sending the letter.

"I know a lot of people who don't even live in this area who come to the Hancock Post Office for the ease of [access] and doing business," Councilman Rick Freeman noted.

On Dec. 24, just before noon, when the Hancock post office was about to close for the Christmas holiday, Keweenaw Now interviewed some local residents as they came out of the building. None of them seemed to be aware of the potential downsizing.

"I go to Houghton a lot, but I prefer the Hancock Post Office," said Keith Koski of Hancock. "It's much quicker."

On Dec. 24 Keith Koski of Hancock offers his views on the potential downsizing of the Hancock Post Office.

Koski noted while Houghton has better hours (It's open a bit later on Saturdays, for example), Hancock doesn't have the long lines that Houghton has.

Marge (last name withheld) of Laurium said she comes to the Hancock Post Office almost every day for her work and also uses it for personal mailings. She said she is always happy with the service.

"I don't want any of our post offices to be closed," she said.

Russ Hanson of Hancock said he prefers the Hancock Post Office for several reasons and would not want to see it closed.

Russ Hanson of Hancock discusses his preference for the Hancock Post Office.

"It's a lot closer to home," he noted. "You don't have to cross the bridge. I have a lot of correspondence. I drop in two or three days a week."

Hanson also commented on the good service and the available parking at the Hancock Post Office.

Robert Vincent of Mason has a post office box in Hancock and is willing to pay for it even though he could have one at no charge in Dollar Bay.

Robert Vincent of Mason has a post office box in Hancock and prefers it to Dollar Bay.

"I'd have to change everything," he explained, referring to the paperwork that would be required if he changed his post office box address.

Hancock Postmaster Robert Allen said he had told Anderson before the Dec. 17 City Council meeting that nothing was happening with the downsizing proposal.

"It's all on hold," Allen said. "I don't know when it's happening or if it ever will. I've had no more word on it."

Allen compared the downsizing proposal to cities talking about combining police forces.

"Every business is looking to save money," he said.

However, Anderson said when he checked with Congressman Bart Stupak's office he learned of a conversation about merging lots of post offices in the Upper Peninsula.

"Hancock was going to be first," Anderson noted.

However, he added, Senator Levin's and Senator Stabenow's offices were unaware of the proposal until he spoke to their representatives about it.

"It's an anchor draw for the downtown," Anderson said of the Post Office. "My fear (the City's) would be if they eliminate all the carriers and have only three service employees left, they wouldn't stay."

Anderson said he saw no documented savings in the potential downsizing other than the possibility of reducing the postmaster's salary, which could not be done until two years from now. Since the redeployed mail carriers would retain their present routes, but start and end in Houghton, the public would not really notice the change until the "beginning of the end," he added.

"For the first two years it would cost more money, the way I see it," Anderson noted. "They'd have longer routes."

The following is the text of the letter from the City of Hancock addressed to Congressman Bart Stupak. Residents or non-residents of the area who use the Hancock Post Office are urged to write similar letters of support to the Congressional Delegation (see addresses below).

Congressman Bart Stupak
2352 Rayburn Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

RE: Hancock Post Office

Dear Congressman Stupak:

On behalf of the Hancock City Council, I am writing to strongly oppose efforts by the U.S. Postal Service to significantly downsize the Hancock Post Office by up to twelve (12) employees and redeploy them to the Houghton Post Office.

The proposed downsizing in Hancock and increasing the Houghton operation will not provide any savings to the U. S. Postal Service. The downsizing will create uncertainty among post office employees, lead to extra traffic and staff parking concerns in Houghton, and cause potential route scheduling conflicts to the affected carriers.

Postal representatives have advised the city that the post office would keep the service counter open and staffed in Hancock, but our concern is that transfer of the 12 employees to Houghton would be the beginning of the end of our post office.

The Hancock Post Office has a reputation of friendly and professional customer service, quality, and efficient delivery carriers. It has almost the same mail volume, similar carrier and rural routes, as the Houghton Office.

The only saving offered is that after two (2) years the postmaster pay level could be reduced for the Hancock position. Any savings of postmaster pay would be absorbed by the higher operating costs and additional fuel purchases for the longer routes that would be required by utilizing the Houghton Office.

The Hancock Post Office is a key draw for our core downtown and any change could hurt our downtown business environment. In addition, the large U.S. Postal Service owned building would be severely underutilized with only customer service provided.

The entire proposal seems illogical to us and we urge your help in stopping this misguided plan to significantly downsize the Hancock Post Office from fifteen (15) employees to three (3).

We certainly understand the need to be financially responsible, but to simply relocate employees for unsound operational reasons does not make sense.

Your help in stopping this effort is requested.

Thank you for your understanding of this important request for assistance.

Sincerely,

William Laitila, Mayor

cc: Paul Trybon, UP Operations Mgr.
U.S. Postal Service, Menominee

Tom Baldini, Regional Representative, Cong. Stupak's Office
Amy Wisti, Area Representative, Cong. Stupak's Office

Editor's Note: This letter is reprinted with permission of the City of Hancock. The following are addresses for Senators Levin and Stabenow and a Fax number for Paul Trybon, UP Operations Mgr. of the Postal Service.

Senator Carl Levin
269 Russell Office Building
U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20510-2202
Phone (202) 224-6221
Fax (202) 224-1388
Email from Sen. Levin's Web site at http://levin.senate.gov/contact/
See Sen. Levin's Web site for other office addresses.

Senator Debbie Stabenow
221 W. Lake Lansing Road, Suite 100
East Lansing, MI 48823
Phone: (517) 203-1760
e-mail: senator@stabenow.senate.gov

Paul Trybon, UP Operations Mgr.
U.S. Postal Service, Menominee
Fax: 906-863-2640