SCARBOROUGH — The U.S. Postal Service distribution center here may soon have a heavier workload and more employees.

A proposal to end mail processing operations in Portsmouth, N.H., would move that center’s non-delivery work to the Southern Maine Processing and Distribution Center at 77 Postal Service Way and a similar facility in Manchester, N.H. Mail carriers would still work out of the Portsmouth center.

Tom Rizzo, a Postal Service spokesman, said the proposal would save $6.4 million annually – including $4.5 million in work-hour savings and $2.7 million in maintenance savings – offset by an $800,000 increase in public transportation costs. Rizzo said there would be no noticeable difference in mail delivery.

Rizzo said the consolidation is part of the service’s effort to make up for the ongoing loss of billions of dollars in revenue as consumers choose electronic message delivery instead of the mail.

“One of the steps taken to find efficiencies is to find unused capacity at larger plants,” Rizzo said. He said even after moving operations from Portsmouth, the Manchester and Scarborough facilities would still have extra capacity.

“It doesn’t make sense to keep a building open and paying utilities and all the expenses that go into moving mail when we can do it in two buildings,” Rizzo said.

Though hesitant to discuss labor issues, Rizzo said some Portsmouth employees could be reassigned to the centers in Manchester and Scarborough.

“We do have a no-layoff clause in those (collective bargaining agreements),” Rizzo said. “We have no intention of doing anything but following our agreements.”

Tim Doughty, president of American Postal Workers Union Local 458, which represents the workers at the Scarborough hub, said the plan would create more volume and help secure positions at his shop.

The union’s contract with the USPS includes provisions to move workers deemed “in excess of capacity” to postal facilities within 50 miles of their current job, Doughty said. The Manchester and Scarborough hubs both fall within this radius.

Doughty said vacant positions throughout the northeast, including those in Scarborough, have been reserved for excess workers in anticipation of consolidation.

“We’re very capable and willing to handle the increased volume (from Portsmouth),” Doughty said. “While we’re deeply concerned for our brothers and sisters in Portsmouth, we’ll do our best to find them a nice place to work here in Maine.”

Rizzo, the USPS spokesman, said he expects a final decision on consolidation sometime this summer. The Postal Service is still accepting public feedback on the consolidation plan.

The decision comes down, ultimately, to whether consolidation is “in the interest of efficiency and makes good business sense and can be accomplished with a minimum of disruption,” Rizzo said.

In June 2010, the Postal Service was fined $430,000 for “willful and repeated” safety violations at the Scarborough facility on Postal Service Way.

According to John Chavez, an OSHA spokesman, the USPS has contested the citation and the case has been taken by the independent federal Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow Mario on Twitter: @riocarmine.

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Anyone who wishes to submit comments in writing about the proposed USPS consolidation can send them to:

Consumer & Industry Contact Manager, Northern New England District, 151 Forest Ave., Suite 7022, Portland, ME 04101.

Public comments will be accepted through June 14.

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