U.S. Postal Service mail-processing facilities in Akron and Canton will close and the work will be transferred to Cleveland, virtually ending next-day local delivery of stamped letters.

None of the 600 full-time employees in those two plants will immediately lose their jobs, however, because their current contract prohibits layoffs.

The announcement came Thursday after months of speculation, town meetings and pleas from local officials, residents and workers to keep the centers operating.

Mary Sitko, president of the Akron Metro Postal Union, said she was disappointed but not surprised.

“We were hoping, but we did expect it,” she said.

Akron Councilman Jeff Fusco said he was shocked at the timing of the announcement and believed there was an understanding that no decision would be made until May. He questioned how the Postal Service will become more efficient under the consolidation, considering the new process would require a letter mailed from one Akron address to another to travel first to Cleveland.

“It’s hard to get a grasp on what the plan is, how they’re going to save money,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

The Postal Service has argued it has no choice but to make significant changes in response to a 25 percent decline in first-class mail volume since 2006. It has proposed cuts of $3 billion and an end to Saturday mail delivery. The USPS, which does not operate with tax dollars but relies on the sale of postal products and services, reported a loss of $3.3 billion for the quarter ended Dec. 31.

The service operates 457 mail-processing centers across the country. Last year it identified 250 under study for possible closure.

Of those, 223 made Thursday’s final cut list, including nine in Ohio. Operations in Youngstown and Toledo also will be transferred to Cleveland. A Cincinnnati plant that employs 2,000 was the only Ohio location on the original cut list to be spared.

No dates have been set, but the closings eventually will mean the elimination of 4.9 percent of the Postal Service’s workforce. The 27,000 affected jobs will be lost through attrition, officials have said.

Regional Postal Service spokesman David Van Allen said talks are ongoing on how to handle displaced workers. The average age of a postal worker is 53, he said, “and there are so many eligible [for retirement] right now, we could have our reduction in force right then if they all retired.”

Van Allen and Sitko agreed that is unlikely to happen, so the current contract and future negotiations will guide where remaining workers land.

“I feel, because of the economic situation, a lot of people aren’t going to retire, or they may wait for an incentive to leave,” Sitko said. She added there are a lot of people on the edge of retirement who might take the jump if an incentive were offered.

While local stamped mail delivery will become slower once the closures take place, Van Allen said there should be no change in expectations for cross-country first-class delivery. A letter that took three days to get from Akron to California will still take three days once the mail-processing centers are consolidated, he said. Parcels also would be unaffected.

Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic, who is currently in Israel, said he was “frustrated” with the announcement.

“We have met with post office officials numerous times in order to save our citizens’ jobs and to keep mail service convenient for our residents and businesses,” he said by email. “This decision was made despite the best interests of Akron, its residents and its businesses, and our best efforts to offer alternatives.”

A list of mail processing studies and their status is available at www.usps.com/ourfuturenetwork. Individual public meeting summaries are included on the website.

Beacon Journal staff writers Katie Byard and Stephanie Warsmith contributed to this report. Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com.