Smile Politely

Delivering for Champaign-Urbana

Exterior view of the Mattis Avenue Post Office. A brick building with the USPS emblem above the door and "United States Post Office Champaign, Illinois" in metal letters below it. The entrance is glass. There is a we're hiring sign out front.
Patrick Singer

The US Postal Service (USPS) is something that we all take for granted. It’s just about as old as this country (it was established in 1792), and we expect it to always be there. It is essential for millions of people, not just for things like ballots, but for medicine, income checks, and bill pay. It’s the only delivery service that has a mandate to deliver everywhere in the US, including to the Havasupai Indian Reservation at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, which is only accessible by mule. Few of us spend any time praising this service. It’s really only when things go wrong that we pay attention: Delayed deliveries, increase in the price of stamps and services, things getting lost, the manipulation of service by government officials to seed chaos and distrust in our elections

If we can thank the Trump administration for anything, it’s for offering many opportunities for all of us to learn more about how government works — or in many cases, doesn’t. Do you remember when we all knew Louis DeJoy’s name? The shenanigans the Trump administration pulled meddling with USPS in 2020 to try to influence the outcome of the presidential election was an education for Americans on how the system works, and where it needs improvement. In 2022, a massive reform bill passed Congress (with bipartisan support!) to update USPS. USPS developed a ten-year plan, Delivering for America, to assess the system and offer “initiatives to improve the mail and package processing, logistics, and delivery networks of the Postal Service and to drive innovation in products and services.” Part of this initiative is to have USPS break even, instead of operating at a loss. 

DeJoy has been working with Democrats to reform it, though you could argue it’s an attempt at corporatizing an understaffed and underfunded system that already has a solid foundation and system for accepting, sorting, and distributing mail. Could some of the actual and perceived problems be solved with more support for staffing and a better acceptance and understanding of the service component in the postal service? It’s sometimes hard to remember that the goals of a government service are different from those of private corporations.  

In Champaign these reforms mean that the Mattis Avenue location will undergo a “mail processing facility review.” During the review process nothing will change at the Mattis Avenue station, but that’s not what has people worried. 

What people in Champaign-Urbana are concerned about is the possibility that the Mattis Avenue processing center could be closed, should the facility review find that there is room to make things more “efficient.” What does efficiency mean? For whom, and at what cost? If the location were to close, more of our mail would be sent to Chicago for processing. Last week there was a “Save the Post Office” event at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center. At the event, people discussed their concerns about delays in receiving mail, and the myriad ways that it is not just disruptive to lives, but potentially dangerous (medication, income, critical pieces of information related to life administration). It’s worth noting that the “Save the Post Office” event was not organized by the post office or the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), but rather by Augustus Wood, a concerned citizen, president of the board of directors at the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center, and assistant professor in labor relations at the University of Illinois.

Locally, we’ve seen carrier routes expanded and mail being delivered late into the evening and, some days, not at all. This seems to point to a need for more carriers, and it’s clear that some sort of change needs to happen to prevent carrier burnout and sustainability. There are available positions  — USPS is hiring in Champaign County, at least from what we can see when searching job sites (and the big sign outside the Mattis Avenue station). As with many other industries post-pandemic, there’s a disconnect between those looking for work, the jobs that need to be filled, and how people are willing and able to make a living. 

Though no decisions have been made yet and there have been no plans announced to close the Mattis Avenue processing center, the effect on regional mail distribution would likely be quite significant. Without being hyperbolic, let’s imagine what that might look like. In a recent News-Gazette article, Barbara Bridges, who is employed at the Champaign Processing and Distribution Center but does not represent the post office or the APWU, was concerned about additional delays to mail delivery as well as people losing their jobs if services are moved elsewhere. APWU Local 692 President Brian Cunningham appeared to attend the Save the Post Office event, and in an interview with WCIA, indicated that customers should fill out the surveys and contact their elected representatives about their concerns. There are currently 200 people in Champaign Local 692. How many of those people’s jobs could be rendered obsolete in a restructuring? Would there be other jobs for them in the postal system in Champaign County? Would they be forced out of a job, or into early retirement? While there are various job training courses in C-U, most of them are not free, and is it fair or appropriate to ask someone who was close to retirement to retrain for a new job, nevermind a career? The potential outcome of this situation begs more questions about how we take care of our community. 

In this process we are currently in a moment of anxiety, and we don’t want to panic (just yet, at least). There are still more steps that have to happen. Right now we are in the Notice of Intent phase. The Mattis Avenue location has opened a public comment survey; you can leave your comments and concerns there. Should this move forward, there will be a public meeting, where more of our concerns can be voiced. After that, there should be a report of findings, with final decisions thereafter. 

In the meantime, complete the available survey (linked above), and contact your elected reps to voice your concern. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Louise Knight-Gibson, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker. 

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