updated 4/2/2009 2:50:05 PM ET 2009-04-02T18:50:05

The U.S. Postal Service said Thursday it plans to close three mail-processing centers and eliminate approximately 1,490 jobs in West Virginia, Indiana and Arizona.

The closures are the latest round of cuts to operations begun on a temporary basis in 1999, when the Postal Service opened 55 centers to process hand-addressed mail that couldn’t be read by optical scanners, spokeswoman Freda Sauter said. At the time, scanners read just 2 percent of handwritten addresses, compared with 95 percent today.

Centers in Charleston and Fort Wayne, Ind., are scheduled to close in October, while the Glendale, Ariz., operation will close in May 2010, Sauter said. Centers in Salt Lake City and Wichita, Kan., will remain open. The Charleston center employs 345 people, while 415 work in Fort Wayne and 728 in Glendale.

A Chattanooga, Tenn., center with 536 employees is due to close this month.

The centers employ a mix of temporary employees and career Postal Service workers, who will be given an opportunity to bid on other open jobs within the agency, Sauter said.

“We wanted to give them six months,” she said. “We’re going to offer a job fair with a list of the vacancies so they have an opportunity to bid for them.”

While the cuts are expected to save the financially strapped Postal Service approximately $4.9 million, they’re not directly tied to its financial woes.

“The Remote Encoding Centers were designed as a temporary solution to automate and expedite the processing of handwritten and poorly printed addresses,” manager Michael Thompson said in a statement. “The plan from the start was to phase out the REC operation as technology enhancements enabled us to automate more mail.”

The service is in the midst of broad cost-cutting efforts. It lost $2.8 billion last year and expects a larger loss this year due to the anemic economy.

Postmaster General John Potter told Congress recently that the service is considering cutting back deliveries to five days a week. It already is planning to offer early retirement to 150,000 workers, eliminating 1,400 management positions and closing six of 80 district offices.

The Charleston operation that’s being closed had benefited from an earlier consolidation. It took over processing mail from North Carolina and South Carolina when the Postal Service closed a Fayetteville, N.C., center in 2006.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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