File photo from 2012 of the U.S. Postal Service's Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Facility. Credit: John Clarke Russ

A decision by the U.S. Postal Service to move a sorting machine from Hampden to Scarborough has local employees worried they’re about to be downsized.

But a Postal Service official said the decision isn’t a reflection of imminent job loss, rather a response to a need for more sorting services in southern Maine.

The mail sorting machine will be moved as soon as next month from the U.S. Postal Service’s Eastern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Hampden to the state’s only other processing facility in Scarborough.

In 2012, the future of the plant was threatened with a nationwide consolidation plan. Then, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe successfully drafted eleventh-hour legislation to keep the facility open, later securing a promise from the former postmaster general that the facility would remain open for another two years.

Hampden employees and American Postal Workers Union members have asked Collins to intervene again. A dozen employees met with a member of Collins’ staff on Wednesday at her office in the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building.

“They’re moving so fast, we’re hoping for an injunction to stop this,” said Donald Pomeroy, the Bangor Area Local 536 president.

Senior Clerk Randy Oakstone said the 200-foot-long, 130-bin conveyor sorting machine that processes about 20,000 parcels a day is the “backbone” of the operation and feeds every other machine and piece of equipment in the facility. Without it, the processing facility loses its purpose, which is to process and sort packages for the northern and eastern part of the state. Losing it will delay package delivery, especially to and from rural parts of the state, he said.

A letter dated March 13 from the Northeast Regional Manager provided to the Bangor Daily News confirms the Postal Service’s decision to move the so-called Automated Parcel Bundle Sorter to the Southern Maine Processing and Distribution Center in Scarborough. Multiple employees said they have not heard why the machine is being moved, or whether they should be worried about losing their jobs.

“We don’t know if we’re going to get a machine to replace this one, we don’t know if we’re going to sort by hand, we don’t know if we’re going to get laid off,” said Heather Monroe, a postal support employee and member of the American Postal Workers Union. “We haven’t heard anything from them.”

But Stephen Doherty, Boston-based communications specialist for the Postal Service said the decision to move the machine is not indicative of future downsizing, and that the new configuration won’t impact delivery standards. Doherty could not say whether Hampden will receive a replacement machine.

“There are no plans to reduce the number of full-time positions right now in Hampden,” Doherty said. “It’s not a precursor to any type of closing or aimed at reducing staff,” but a way to “better serve the customers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.”

Doherty said moving the machine more than 130 miles south will not slow down package delivery for the rest of the state, but could not say how the Hampden facility would make up for lost time without its primary sorting machine.

The processing facility in Portsmouth, New Hampshire experienced a similar problem in 2011, Oakstone said. First the facility’s sorting machines were relocated to Manchester, followed by a total consolidation of services. The regional district manager at the time cited a decline in the volume of mail and cost savings as reasons for consolidation.

Oakstone is worried the same might happen in Hampden.

“This is consolidation through another name, and they’re doing it incrementally by taking the backbone [and] then incrementally farming out all the jobs,” he said.

Concerned about the prospect of losing jobs and sagging delivery standards, Collins sent a letter to Postmaster General Megan Brennan on Friday, April 6.

“USPS staff indicate that the machine is being moved to better serve the postal customers in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. I am concerned, however, that customers throughout much of Maine will actually experience a degradation of their current delivery service if the APBS machine is removed from [Hampden],” the senator wrote.

Collins said many of her constituents in rural parts of Maine “who must travel long distances to reach brick and mortar stores or service centers, have come to rely on e-commerce and the USPS for delivery of a variety of items, including basic household goods and prescription medications.”

“Reducing service should be the last resort, not the first option,” Collins said, requesting a response by Friday, April 20.

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