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Gwinnett center could garner work as postal service eyes possible cuts

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Processing centers in Kentucky and Tennessee could be shut down and hundreds of local jobs lost as the U.S. Postal Service looks for ways to cut costs and restore its fiscal health.

The facilities in Lexington, Ky., and Chattanooga, Tenn., are among 250 centers nationwide being studied over the next three to four months as the Postal Service looks for ways to save money.

In Lexington, 184 jobs would be eliminated, with services moved to Louisville or Knoxville, Tenn. In Chattanooga, closure would mean 223 jobs lost and work shifted to Duluth, Ga.

Postal Service spokesman David Walton told The Chattanooga Times Free Press that if nothing is done, the Postal Service will go bankrupt.

"Right now, we're losing money hand over fist," he said. The Postal Service projects it will lose about $9 billion this year.

Walton said a public meeting will be held in Lexington in November.

Geoff Reed, an adviser to Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, told The Lexington Herald-Leader that the city is planning more discussions with postal officials.

"We all thought there would be a longer timeline and that the cutbacks envisioned would not be as severe," Reed said. "We are planning further discussions with representatives of the postal service as to exactly what this new directive means to Lexington."

Nationwide, the postal service is looking at adjusting service standards. For example, it might take two days to deliver first-class mail instead of only one, after mail volume dropped by 43 billion pieces in the last five years. Last year, the service was $8.5 billion in the red. Roughly half of all Americans now pay their bills online.

Postal officials are considering whether to shift processing in Bowling Green to Evansville, Ind., and to Nashville, and processing in Elizabethtown to Louisville.

Sorting centers in Pikeville and Ashland already have been closed and the work transferred to West Virginia.

The Postal Service hopes to cut 220,000 of its 559,026 workers by 2015. In July, the organization announced a similar study that could shut down up to 3,700 post offices, 61 of which are in Tennessee.

There are about 50,000 workers at the targeted facilities, postal officials said.

Some people's jobs could be moved to other centers, Walton said. Nationally, he said, the average age of those affected is 52, and 54 percent of them are eligible for retirement.

"This is a study," Walton said. "We have to look at how one piece of the puzzle affects 10 or 20 other pieces."

Randy Bradley of the local American Postal Workers Union in Lexington said postal workers will fight back.

"It's nonsense," he said. "It beats me how this would save money if mail has to go to Knoxville before it's returned to Lexington. There are other ways to reconstruct from what they're doing."

The APWU is pushing a bill in the U.S. House that would allow pre-payments to the post service's retirement funds to be used to help balance the books.

They may get some help from Congressman Ben Chandler, D-Ky.

"This situation will be closely monitored, and I will continue to advocate to keep jobs in central Kentucky," Chandler said in a statement.

Jordan Powell, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., said the post office does need reforms.

"But the distribution center seems to be working in Chattanooga, so it doesn't make a lot of sense to move it somewhere else," Powell said.