CARY — Postmaster John Thompson leaned back in his office chair on Thursday morning as he thought about the goodbyes he was about to say.
With five of his employees taking retirement buy-outs, the Cary post office on Wrenn Drive was losing 161 years of combined experience.
“161 years, gone,” Thompson said.
The number heralds the deep cuts the U.S. Postal Service is undergoing as mail volumes decline and the federal service struggles amid talk of cuts.
“Yeah, you might see me out there with a bag on a route,” Thompson joked as he headed toward the warehouse floor.
Then the suit-and-tie boss took an intercom receiver and called his exiting employees to the concrete floor one last time: “OK, retirees, let’s show up. We can’t be late today.”
The departing employees are among an estimated 20,000 nationwide to accept a $15,000 incentive for early retirement, a move negotiated between the service and American Postal Workers Union to trim the federal service’s workforce and expenses.
Thompson said increased automation and temporary workers will fill the gap, minimizing disruption for customers.
Each of the departing Cary clerks joined the service 20 or more years ago, and many had become familiar faces in town. Some folks will be surprised to learn that Dan Drohan, a front-desk clerk, doesn’t have a twin brother in the postal service, as he has told people for years.
Actually, Drohan splits his time between the Academy Street and Wrenn Drive post offices.
“I’ve been saying this for the last 15 years,” said Drohan, a 55-year-old from New Jersey who has worked for 32 years at the postal service.
Like many long-time postal workers, he knew from the beginning that the service could be his career.
“The post office served me good for 30-something years, paid the mortgage, put my kids through NCSU,” he said.
In the 1970s and ’80s, “we were young, and the other jobs weren’t paying,” said Eugene Delosh, 55, another of Thursday’s retirees.
But the future’s not so sure for employees just starting their careers. Fairly or not, the future of the U.S. Postal Service is tied to federal-level budget discussions and plummeting volumes of traditional mail.
The result has been multiplying workloads and shifting job descriptions, according to retiree Sandra Simmons, 59. She was shifted from a finance position to the front desk a few years ago, and she blames some of the service’s problems on unfair budgeting by Congress.
“When you see the long lines, that’s it – we’re short staffed,” said Simmons, a Holly Springs resident. She’ll take the next few months for some peaceful reflection, she said.
Deborah Henderson, meanwhile, planned to take a nap after her final shift, which began at 3 a.m. Thursday. Then, the Raleigh resident said, she’d get back to work on her bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Phoenix.
Those leaving the postal service are often eligible for pensions of about a third of their salary, plus eventual social service payments, according to Gregg Bockover, the last of the retirees.
As a window clerk, he has had a month of goodbyes, receiving cards and cake from regulars who caught wind of his departure.
“I know a lot of people around town,” said Bockover, 57, who will put his new free time into his band, The Tranzenders.
Even as he talked about his retirement, though, he heard his named called on the intercom. The lines were queuing up at the front of the office, and there was a woman asking for Bockover.
“We’ve become very close in my time coming in here,” said Cheryl Krehan, whose husband is a mail carrier. She drives from Apex a few times a month to mail bills and packages from the Cary office.
She hasn’t gone fully digital yet, she said. She wants to keep the mail running.
Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary