Coming off a fiscal year in which they reported a $5.1 billion loss, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has come up with a confusing approach for improving their 2012 bottom line: cutting services without lowering costs. Their seemingly backwards strategy includes the closing of 20 Contract Postal Units (CPUs) nationwide, including Better Letter on Roebling Street.
CPUs are post office substations that operate in existing retail operations, and offer alternate postal service access to the public. Providing the same services as the post office (except PO boxes and money orders), these substations benefit communities by decreasing lines at local post offices and increasing hours of available service. They also provide a personal level of service due to their knowledge of the local customer base and their ability to address language barrier issues. More than 4,000 CPUs are in operation throughout the US, including two in North Brooklyn, Better Letter and Murawski Pharmacy at 94-98 Nassau Avenue.
Better Letter is owned by Esther and Israel Wurzberger, a local couple fluent in English, Yiddish and Spanish, the main languages spoken in South Williamsburg. Each day, the Wurzbergers’ CPU serves around 250 – 300 customers, processes 100 to 200 packages and sells around 2500 stamps, for which they are paid exclusively on a commission basis. Their familiarity with the community enhances their efficiency. “I have so many relationships in Williamsburg’s business community, the owners know they can drop off their packages with me and go back to work and I’ll bill them later, so they don’t have to take up any time doing the actual shipping,” said Israel.
However, on January 23rd, the Wurzbergers received notice from the USPS that they had 120 days to cease operations with no process for appeal. The Wurzbergers and their customers were understandably shocked.
The 20 CPUs are getting chopped as part of a recent collective bargaining agreement between the USPS and the postal union. No reasons have been given for choosing these particular substations. “Let me emphasize that this agreement has nothing to do with the performance of the CPUs listed around the country,” said USPS spokesperson Connie Chirichello. “It has everything to do with the terms and conditions during the negotiations.”
The Wurzbergers are fighting the closing. “I’m circulating petitions and asking customers to please sign,” said Israel. “They all say ‘Oh no, you are not closing. If they want they can close [South 4th Street].’ I have a very good relationship with the [South 4th] Manager Lopez and with most of the drivers, and no one can understand why they would [close us down].” Local postal officials confirm this, saying the Wurzbergers are “wonderful people” and that Better Letter’s business practices have never been at issue.
“I have affidavits from customers, that if this location is closed, they have no choice but to change to [other carriers] because they have no time to stand in line [at the post office],” Israel said. Artist and graphic designer Aimee Wilder is a Better Letter customer. “I’ll probably switch over to UPS because I can’t afford to wait an hour at the post office,” she said.
In addition to enlisting customer support, the Wurzbergers reached out to United Jewish Organizations (UJO) Executive Director Rabbi David Niederman. A 2005 campaign to improve postal service led the USPS to determine that Williamsburg’s South 4th Street Post Office needed help serving the growing community. Brooklyn’s Postmaster consulted local elected officials and community groups, including UJO, to find a local business capable of serving the community’s unique needs. Eventually they tapped Better Letter and the Wurzbergers. “It doesn’t make sense when you’re looking at the situation,” Niederman said. “The community’s happy, an entrepreneur is succeeding and the post office is making money, it’s a win-win situation. It makes no sense.”
Better Letter has also joined forces with the other closing CPUs to form the Confederation of Postal Contractors. They’ve launched a website, www.cpucpc.org, complete with their story and an online petition for supporters to submit to President Obama. Texas Congressman John Carter has joined the fight on behalf of the CPUs. “This is just plain wrong,” he said. “My constituents should have a choice as to what Post Office they want to use, and if a privately owned contract office is performing better and easier to use, they should be able to use that location over a main branch.”
Locally, Assemblyman Joe Lentol is in the CPU’s corner. “I am very concerned about the shutting down of this service primarily because it provides easy access for residents,” he said. “If the Post Office is to survive, it must improve its convenience and easy accessibility – the CPUs are a good compromise that can help achieve that. I will ask the Postmaster of Brooklyn to review this decision to see if this valuable service can be saved.”
The Wurzbergers have until May 31st to fight the closing. Along with the other closing substations, they are having a hard time understanding how the USPS, in their current economic state, can afford to lose customers and eliminate commission-based jobs while maintaining salaried positions. “Why shut down 20 small businesses that earn approximately $20 million in annual profits for the postal service?” asked Esther. “We represent pure profit to them.”