A large subterranean Post Office in Midtown quietly closed last Friday, replaced by a smaller location a block away just as a comprehensive postal reform bill passed through congress.
The closure of the famed Rockefeller Center Finance Center appears to be the latest cost saving effort by the cash-strapped United States Postal Service. The beleaguered federal agency last November said it lost $4.9 billion in 2021.
The new, smaller branch inside a storefront a block away on 50th Street between 6th and 5th Ave. has fewer public tellers and post office boxes.
“It’s a reduced service to the public,” said Chuck Zlatkin, legislative and political director for the NY Metro Area Postal Union, which represents letter carriers.
The number of P.O. boxes has gone from approximately 5,597 at Rockefeller Center location to 1,436 at the 50th Street office, according to USPS spokesperson Xavier Hernandez.
He said many of the boxes at the old location were not being used and that the relocation was necessary “because the lease expired and we could no longer remain at the former location.”
“The change in the number of boxes also equates to a smaller footprint, allowing the Postal Service to more efficiently serve customer needs by offering relevant products and services,” he added.
The downsizing also comes as the Postal Reform Act passed through both houses of Congress earlier this month. The measure has bipartisan support and is expected to be signed into law by President Joe Biden.
The $107 billion reform measure loosens current restrictions that require the Postal Service to pre-fund retiree health benefits. The USPS has defaulted on those payments since 2011 because of a precipitous drop in mail revenue.
The legislation calls for retirees to be moved onto Medicare, saving an estimated $1.5 billion over the next decade.
Under the bill the USPS can also team up with local governments to provide people with hunting, fishing and drivers licenses. The legislation is also designed to assist struggling rural newspapers via a reduction in mailing fees.
The city’s Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has taken a lead role in pushing for the long sought postal reforms and has been a frequent critic of the current setup.
“These reforms ensure the Postal Service continues as an independently operated organization that Americans can continue to rely on for the years to come,” Maloney (D-Manhattan/Brooklyn/Queens), said when the bill passed the House on Feb. 8.
The measure also backs Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s controversial 10-year restructuring plan. As part of that roadmap, DeJoy, a Trump supporter, has begun buying up to 148,000 gas-powered mail delivery trucks, angering environmental activists.
The USPS is also confronting a potentially dire driver shortage that is particularly severe in the New York area, according to a report published by the agency’s Inspector General on March 7.
There was an estimated shortage of 80,000 drivers in 2021 causing a spike in overtime and delivery delays across the nation.
“Postal Service management identified the following states where hiring drivers is particularly challenging: California, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Wisconsin,” the report said.
In the New York area, the USPS is looking to hire dozens of drivers for routes in Brooklyn, Queens and Nassau County.
As for the new midtown post office, there are 15 employees assigned to the spot but only 13 lockers, according to Zlatkin.
“These are things the union has to deal with,” he added. “But obviously not only did they not care about the public, they didn’t care about their own employees too.”
The union wasn’t given proper notification about the location shift as required by law, Zlatkin contended. Elected officials and the community board in the area were also caught off guard, according to Zlatkin, who reached out to those officials.
“No one had any idea,” he said.
The USPS said the union and others were notified during a seemingly routine public hearing on Nov. 5, 2018. “And a recent notification was shared with employees and the public on March 10,” said Hernandez, noting a press release was also issued on March 16.
On Wednesday, many customers seemed to enjoy the new location with some saying the above ground branch is easier to find.
But not everyone welcomed the move.
“I have been with them for 35 years,” said Sylvain Manya, 69, as he tried to open his box at the new spot.
“I had to fill the form out to get my key, and I come today and the key doesn’t work with my box,” he said. “They couldn’t fix it today, I’m not happy.”
Diana Chan, 37, said the new location was “less confusing” than the Rockefeller branch in the concourse.
“But I liked that too,” she said, “because it was hidden so there were a lot less people, less crowded.”
This article was originally posted on Rock Center Post Office Closes as USPS Looks for Financial Deliverance