The grand opening of the Scarborough mail processing plant went ahead despite a protest staged by U.S. Postal Service employees.

Despite the cold and rainy weather, about 70 to 100 people showed up to picket the opening of the $82 million mail distribution center said Scott Adams, president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 458. Adams also said he spoke with both Sen. Olympia Snow and Sen. Susan Collins who showed up for the opening. Both, he said, agreed not to cross the picket line and take a tour of the distribution center.

“It was nice to have that kind of support,” said Adams of all the people who demonstrated in the cold weather. “Our voice was heard.”

The new distribution center is a state of the art facility that will create vast improvements in efficiency, said Christine Dugas, spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service. The new center replaces the old one on Forest Avenue in Portland and a few other satellite facilities.

The problem, said Adams, isn’t the new center but how management is choosing to staff it. According to Adams, the center is understaffed due to workers getting shuffled around to other postal centers in Maine in an effort to save money.

“It’s because we can’t get things running properly,” said Adams. “Once we do, the mail will flow, it’s a state of the art facility. We just need the staff.”

“Certainly no one has lost a job or been laid off,” said Dugas. “We feel that the facility is appropriately staffed.” What did happen, said Dugas, is that about 8 percent of the 635 plant employees either went to a different shift or a different job. Some reassignments, she said, were voluntary.

“Some people wanted to take jobs that were closer to home,” said Dugas.

Additionally, said Dugas, there is a process based on seniority that allows an employee to retrieve his or her old position.

Adams, however, said that many reassignments were not voluntary and a number of employees are unhappy.

About 22 workers, said Adams, were taken out of their positions and told they would be working in other postal centers. Some were moved to Bath and Brunswick, said Adams. Then, he added, temporary staff with less seniority replaced the displaced workers.

“This is not about benefits or wages, this is about taking care of people,” said Adams. “It’s a numbers game. They need a return on the $82 million investment.” Adams said that while new and better machines do replace some jobs, postal workers are used to that and understand that technology changes.

“We’re going to lose jobs to new machines, we understand that. But they went too far,” said Adams. From here, he added, he plans to file an official grievance.

“We would not automatically initiate anything after a picket,” said Dugas. “We understand and respect their right to voice their opinions.”

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