CHAMPAIGN — The U.S. Postal Service says it's moving ahead with plans to shift mail processing now done in Bloomington and Effingham to the Champaign processing and distribution center.
But it isn't clear yet whether those consolidations will begin in August or wait until January and February of next year.
The postal service said Thursday that it will consolidate 140 of its 461 mail processing locations by February 2013, including those in Bloomington and Effingham.
All of Effingham's mail processing will move to Champaign, while the Bloomington load will be divided between Champaign and Peoria.
The postal service said it will proceed with another 89 consolidations beginning in February 2014.
Although some of the first wave of consolidations will begin this summer, others will be put off until early next year.
"Due to the volume of high-priority mail predicted for the election and holiday mailing seasons, no consolidating activities will be conducted from September through December of 2012," Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said in a release.
Megan Brennan, chief operating officer of the postal service, said consolidation will begin this summer at only 48 locations.
"As a result, nearly all consolidating activities in 2012 will occur in August and then will resume again the early part of next year," she said.
Valerie Welsch, a regional spokeswoman for the postal service in St. Louis, said she hadn't received word on whether Effingham or Bloomington were among the 48 facilities that would begin consolidating this summer.
Postal officials indicated in February that Effingham, with a smaller mail-processing facility, would likely be the first to close.
Bloomington, with a larger facility than Effingham's, wasn't expected to close until after Christmas, postal officials said at the time.
In February, postal officials said the consolidation would likely mean a significant increase in the 250 employees who now work in Champaign. Most of the new positions would likely be filled by people now working in Bloomington or Effingham.
Work at the Champaign processing center — now done primarily at nights — was expected to change more to days and evenings.
The Champaign facility processes about 5 million pieces of mail a week. Once the change takes place, mail volume in Champaign is expected to almost triple.
Also included in the consolidations are mail-processing operations in Carbondale, Centralia and Quincy. All three are now expected to consolidate with the processing and distribution facility in Springfield.
Previously, mail processed in Carbondale and Centralia had been scheduled to move to Evansville, Ind., and mail processed in Quincy was slated to move to Columbia, Mo.
The consolidations are aimed at saving money. The postal service is projecting a $14 billion net loss for the 2012 fiscal year.
"We simply do not have the mail volumes to justify the size and capacity of our current mail-processing network," Donahoe said.
The first wave of consolidations is expected to reduce the size of the postal service by about 13,000 employees and reduce costs by about $1.2 billion annually.
By late 2014, when the second wave of consolidations is expected to be complete, the workforce may be reduced by as many as 28,000 employees and costs may be cut by as much as $2.1 billion a year.
About 5,000 employees are expected to begin receiving notifications next week related to the consolidations.
The postal service said it is working with its unions for an employee retirement incentive, though no final decision has been made.
Postal officials also announced plans to change its standard for overnight delivery. The postal service would shrink the geographic areas in which it can assure overnight delivery. As a result of the change, only about 80 percent of first-class mail would still be delivered overnight.