(Reuters) - The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service will offer buyouts this summer to nearly all of its 45,000 mail handlers, part of a plan to consolidate operations at 140 mail-processing facilities in the next year.
The mail agency, which lost $3.2 billion in the first three months of 2012, plans to begin this summer moving mail-processing activities away from smaller sites to reduce annual costs.
As part of that plan, the Postal Service will offer $15,000 in two installments to full-time mail handlers who take early retirement or leave the agency, USPS spokesman Mark Saunders said on Friday.
Mail handlers are workers who load trucks and move mail containers between processing operations. Part-time employees also will be eligible for separation incentives in amounts based on the number of hours they work.
"The agreement with the Postal Service is intended to provide a financial cushion, and added peace of mind, for mail handlers who might be prepared to move on to the next chapter of their lives by leaving the Postal Service," the National Postal Mail Handlers Union said on its website.
The Postal Service has been hit hard by tumbling mail volumes as more Americans communicate online and by massive payments for future retiree health benefits. The agency has asked Congress to let it end Saturday delivery and make other changes. In the meantime, USPS officials have been looking for ways to cut costs.
The agency needs to reduce its workforce by 150,000 people by 2015, Saunders said. Consolidating and closing processing facilities, which will continue through 2014, could eliminate up to 28,000 jobs and save $2.1 billion a year, the Postal Service has said.
Saunders said he could not speculate how many mail handlers would take buyouts this year, but added that the change "will not affect mail service."
The Postal Service also has said it will offer buyouts to more than 21,000 postmasters this year. Postal officials scrapped a plan to close thousands of money-losing post offices and instead, will reduce hours at 13,000 of the nation's smallest offices.
(Editing by Jan Paschal)
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