Battered by billions of dollars in losses, the U.S. Postal Service is pushing to end most Saturday deliveries starting this summer. But the future of the cost-saving measure remains murky — as well as its day-to-day effect on Napa businesses and residents.
The Postal Service announced Wednesday its intention to cease delivering and collecting first-class mail, including magazines, sales brochures and circulars, on Saturdays starting Aug. 5. The cutback would leave Americans without full six-day mail service for the first time in 150 years.
“Our financial condition is urgent,” Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe said in a Washington, D.C. news conference, where he predicted the elimination of Saturday service would save $2 billion a year.
Package deliveries would remain available on Saturdays, reflecting their role as one of the Postal Service’s few remaining growth areas. Deliveries of parcels have increased by 14 percent since 2010, even as revenue from letters and other traditional mail has plunged with the rise of email and social networks.
Postal boxes would continue to be stocked six days a week, and branches already open on Saturdays would remain so, officials said.
For some local merchants, the shrinking of the mail schedule has been a long time coming — and thus unlikely to be much of a roadblock to sales or shipments.
“I’d be sorry to see any service go, but it’s a business decision that has to be made,” said Anette Yazidi, founder of Anette’s Chocolates on First Street. “It’ll affect the convenience of residents but it won’t affect my business too much.”
The confectionery once mailed about 3,000 copies of a candy catalog twice a year, but ceased the circulars in the mid-2000s in favor of an online store to save on postage costs, she said.
On Demand Direct Mail, which produces mailers for various Napa businesses and nonprofit groups, has seen its total of mailings fall from a high of 4.5 million in 2004 to 3 million in recent years, according to Maggy Walton, the company’s direct mail manager. However, local post offices already accept commercial mail only on weekdays and the shorter schedule should have little effect on business, she said.
The reduced postal schedule, which Donohoe has proposed for several years, has faced steady opposition from postal carrier unions who have called its savings both insufficient and misaimed. Union officials instead have pointed to the fiscal drain from a 2006 Congressional requirement that the Postal Service pre-fund $55 billion of future employee medical benefits within a decade, a rule that accounted for $11.1 billion of its record $15.9 billion loss in the 2011-12 fiscal year.
Members of the National Association of Letter Carriers from across the U.S. are scheduled to hold a special meeting this weekend in Las Vegas to decide on a strategy to fight the Saturday cutback, according to John Beaumont, president of the California State Association of Letter Carriers.
Beaumont called the Postal Service’s announcement a chance for unions to push again for an end to the advance payments — the goal of a House of Representatives bill unveiled in 2011 but yet to pass.
“I think it’ll accelerate the effort to get rid of the pre-funding,” he said. “That costs $5.2 billion a year, and they’re talking about saving $2 billion a year (from slashing Saturday delivery). Getting rid of a day makes no sense; they may save money in the short run, but in the long run they won’t replace the revenue they’ve lost.”
Outside the Postal Service’s downtown branch on Second Street, some customers showed neither surprise nor alarm at the news.
“I work Monday to Friday anyway, so we don’t deal with (weekend) mail,” said Deanna Seyler, a paralegal for a Napa law firm. “And at home there’s nothing in the mail that can’t wait.”
“I think the five-day week was inevitable,” said Lee Brock, a Napa railway engineer. “Obviously, they have to cut costs, and they can’t seem to find any other way to do it. Of course, once you cut service, more people will go online.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.