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Letters from Helena

The U.S. Postal Service is taking a hard look at consolidating Helena’s mail operations, prompting warnings from union members about slower mail service. On Oct. 4, about 30 people picketed at Helena’s post office to draw attention to the issue.

Janet Kosnik, president of Helena’s American Postal Workers Union, says eliminating Helena’s outgoing mail operations in favor of trucking mail to Great Falls could result in earlier collection times, later delivery times and longer in-transit periods.

“The Postal Service is here to give everyone effective and good service, and we feel like we’ll lose that,” Kosnik says.

Al DeSarro, a spokesman for the Postal Service’s western region, says the Postal Service is conducting a study, expected to be completed early next year, examining the merits and minuses of such a move. Helena’s office currently handles about 300,000 pieces of mail a day, about 100,000 pieces of which are outgoing, DeSarro says. And while some of Helena’s jobs could be changed or moved to Great Falls should the Postal Service consolidate, no jobs would be lost. He says the Postal Service won’t pursue the move if it means a lag in service.

“The project would not be approved if there was a major impact on the service,” DeSarro says. “Montana has one of the best service records of any state in the country…and they intend to keep that reputation.”

Kosnik can’t fathom, though, how adding more than 170 miles to a letter’s journey can fail to impact the time elapsed between sender and receiver. She says service to Missoula and other areas of the state would likely be affected, too, though DeSarro doubts that.

DeSarro says the Helena operation is the only one in Montana being studied for consolidation, but about 40 other sites are being evaluated nationwide. The push to cut spending comes in the face of dropping utilization of the Postal Service in the era of Internet transactions, but DeSarro couldn’t say yet how much the consolidation might save, or the price of the study itself.

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