The primary reason for pressuring the Postal Service to not consolidate these five facilities in West Virginia is the loss of local jobs. As an editorial in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph notes "If the jobs were to be lost, it would be another crippling blow to Mercer County — particularly given the 164 jobs that were lost last week at Flowers Baking Company. We must fight to keep these 96 postal positions in Bluefield."
As Postal Service pay is set based on national contracts, Postal Service jobs in West Virginia are likely to offer above average salaries for jobs in the towns where the plants under consideration for consolidation are located. So the loss of the 96 Postal Service jobs is likely to have a bigger economic impact on a community like Bluefield than the loss of 96 of the 164 jobs lost at Flowers Baking Company. Making job losses even more difficult is West Virgina 9.6% that above the 8.9% national rate.
The Problem with West Virginia that makes it a likely target for consolidation for the Postal Service is that its demographics result in relatively low volumes of mail per capita and most likely faster declines in mail volume that other states with households that are more attractive to advertisers and e-commerce retailers. The demographic factors that work against mail volume in West Virginia that drive the Postal Service's focus on plants in its state are as follows:
- West Virginia is a mostly rural state that is relatively poor. It has the 44th lowest GDP per capita of any state in the United States, and has one of the lowest ranked states in GDP per capita for decades. West Virginia is has the 6th highest poverty rate.
- West Virginia is a state that also has population that is not growing. The 1,819,777 estimate of population in 2009 and is 6.7% below the population in 1980 and 9.3% below the state's population peak in 1950.
The five consolidation studies generate a "here we go again" feeling within West Virginia that reflects a history of corporations headquartered outside of the state closing coal mines, manufacturing plants and retailers that has made it difficult for the state to end decades of challenges to growing West Virginia's economy. It creates the sense that West Virginia is a victim again and is reflected in the editorial of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph that stated that, "The postal service does appear to be unfairly targeting facilities in southern West Virginia, and the Mountain State in general, for consolidation."
However, West Virginia is not alone in having multiple plant consolidation under review and the consolidations announced in West Virginia are similar to those located in most other states. A cursory look at the list of consolidation studies that the American Postal Workers Union maintains shows that nearly every state is affected. For example, Wyoming has four plants under review even though its income level is higher and its population is growing faster.
The letter from the West Virginia Congressional delegation raises a central question about the reason the United States has a Postal Service. Should it operate as a federal jobs program that requires federal assistance to maintain jobs in communities like Bluefield West Virginia or should it be a self-sufficient enterprise that provides a critical part of the nation's economic infrastructure? The members of the West Virginia delegatin appear to want the Postal Service to operate as a jobs program.
If Pat Donahoe is to give the Postal Service a chance to have a self sufficient future, then he has to maintain his resolve that plant consolidation is a core strategy for the Postal Service. He must stand up to the West Virginia Congressional delegation and push through these consolidations as quickly as possible. Similarly, it is time for members of Congress that believe a self-sufficient Postal Service should be the core of postal policy to support Pat Donahoe's actions to consolidate processing facilities in West Virginia and all other states.