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August 23, 2014

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Postal service outlines possible Saturday cuts at Las Vegas meeting

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Erin Dostal

U.S. Postal Commission Chairwoman Ruth Goldway oversees a public hearing Monday at Las Vegas City Hall. The hearing is the first of seven across the country, during which the commission will listen to testimony about the possibility of switching to a five-day delivery week.

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The U.S. Postal Service might cut Saturday delivery in an effort to help close a projected annual loss of $7 billion. Las Vegans on Monday were the first in the country with a chance to voice their opinions about the proposal.

Cutting Saturday services could save $3.1 billion in the first year and as much as $5.2 billion a year by 2020, officials said.

The Postal Regulatory Commission held its first of seven public hearings Monday afternoon at Las Vegas City Hall to discuss the possibility of eliminating Saturday deliveries and collections.

“We wanted to find a region of the country where there had been vast distances and new growth,” commission chairwoman Ruth Goldway said of the decision to choose Las Vegas as its first site for a series of public forums across the country. “Las Vegas is new and the fastest-growing city in America.”

Under the proposal, post offices would stay open on Saturday, but home and business deliveries would cease.

Commission members will gather information at the seven meetings, then present their findings to Congress in October, Goldway said. The commission isn’t taking a position on how to solve the Postal Service’s budget problems.

“This proposal is one of the most significant changes ever presented to the commission,” Goldway said.

The Postal Service delivers about 165 billion pieces of mail each year and is funded through its sale of services, as opposed to taxes. But during the Las Vegas forum on Monday, people who rely on Saturday services said cuts would be harmful.

Rich Griffin, vice president of the Nevada State Association of Letter Carriers, said having services available only five days a week could be disastrous.

“We are a service, and unfortunately, the Postal Service forgets that,” he said.

If Saturdays are cut, Griffin said he worried some people in rural areas and the elderly – who might not be able to drive to post offices – might see delays in getting vital mail, such as medications or unemployment checks.

Tom Underkoffler, director of logistics for Medco Health Solutions, which has the nation’s largest mail-order pharmacy operation, said Saturday would be the worst day for deliveries to be cut because so many customers are home on weekends.

He called the proposal “degrading service to cut costs,” adding that two consecutive non-delivery days could hurt those who need medications in a timely manner.

Omar Gonzalez, regional coordinator for the American Postal Workers Union, said he was speaking Monday on behalf of 250,000 members of his union.

“The mail will be deliberately delayed,” he said. “We think that the public deserves full service.

Gonzalez continued: “It’s a spiral to the elimination of the Postal Service as we know it. If the Postal Service goes, the country’s in trouble.”

Susan M. Plonkey, vice president of sales for the Postal Service, said the economy and increased use of digital mail services have created a need for cuts. She said the proposed cuts would position the Postal Service for years to come.

“It can help us to provide the important services well into the future,” she said. “We feel that this is a small price to pay.”

The commission will hold six more public hearings, with locations in Chicago; Dallas; Sacramento, Calif.; Memphis, Tenn.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Rapid City, S.D.

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