It may take longer to receive that magazine or package in the mail beginning this week – that is if you still receive physical mail. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is set to begin a new round of plant closings and consolidations affecting dozens of processing centers. Unions are crying foul and in response a number of congressmen are trying to throw a monkey wrench in these plans.

As part of a restructuring plan to keep the faltering USPS afloat, it plans to close 82 mail processing plants nationwide and consolidate services. This cost-saving measure is an alternative to the unpopular options of ending Saturday service or restructuring the congressional mandated pre-funding of retiree benefits.

So far the Postal Service has consolidated 350 mail-processing facilities and taken other steps to reduce costs since 2006. Most recently, in addition to plant closings, it has eliminated about 3,800 routes, reduced hours at more than 9,700 offices, and trimmed its workforce by 3,000 employees. USPS has reported back to Congress that these changes have had negligible impacts on service, required no employee layoffs, and generated over three-quarters of a billion dollars in cost-savings.

Finally, a government agency restructuring and reassessing its business processes to eliminate waste and inefficiency. You’d think everyone would be cheering. Not so much. Postal unions and Democratic members of Congress want to stop the cost-saving measures. Too bad they have yet to offer alternatives.

The Washington Post reports:

Earlier this month, 30 senators, all but one of them Democrats, issued a letter to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe urging USPS not to move forward with its “network rationalization” program until the agency has completed its analyses of potential impacts.

USPS spokeswoman Sarah Ninivaggi said the agency plans to respond to the senators’ letter, but she did not provide a timeline.

In October, the USPS inspector general released a report saying the Postal Service was leaving communities in the dark about the impacts of the changes. Auditors found incomplete impact studies for all of the 95 mail-processing facilities that are due to absorb operations from other centers.

Despite the inspector general’s findings, the Postal Service insisted this week that it had fulfilled its obligations with the impact reports.

But the Postal Service, which has lost billions of dollars each year since 2006, has shown no appetite for delays. Ninivaggi said the agency will begin its network rationalization program, estimated to save $750 million annually, on Jan. 10, as originally scheduled.

A Postal Service fact sheet says the changes will only nominally increase the average delivery time for first-class mail, from 2.14 days to 2.25 days. Ninivaggi said the agency based its estimate on “extensive modeling and real-time info from last year’s consolidations.”

Postal unions are up in arms claiming that jobs and delivery times are at risk with the closures. A local union in Corpus Christi, for example, claims that people will immediately notice the delay in receiving their bills and IRS tax refund checks. If that sounds antiquated it’s because it is. Mail volume has apparently decreased by more than 27 percent since 2006. However expenditure are out of control and paying retiree benefits is a big driver of that.

The Postal Service should be applauded by the likes of Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) for trying to find solutions to save taxpayers money. The agency is beleaguered and needs to adjust to a changing delivery environment that relies more on the internet than ever. Gone are the days of receive every utility bill, letter, and form by mail. Because of the convenience, security, and environmental friendliness of email, Americans (especially those under 40) are bypassing “snail” mail. Packages are still good business though.

The Post Office lost its advantage of being able to reach into every American community long ago with the onset of the digital age. We’re not going backward but forward.

The introduction of private delivery services such as UPS and FedEx offer alternatives have also injected competition into the mail delivery marketplace and forced USPS to up its game. For consumers that has delivered more choices and faster service – all positive benefits.

For the workers who may be retiring or choosing new opportunities, closures and consolidations are difficult. However, perhaps instead of fighting for what may eventually disappear, postal unions would better serve their constituencies by opening their eyes to where the best opportunities are for the future.