Wednesday, July 10, 2024

USPS...adieu!

I may have waited a bit too long to finish the story of my brief sojourn with the USPS as the memories of my time delivering mail are already fading fast. What I will say is that job contentment is almost all down to whether or not your unit (the USPS uses military terminology) has a robust union presence and whether or not your supervisors began as letter carriers or were brought in directly as management with no practical experience out in the field, as it were. My unit, unfortunately, had neither a decent shop steward nor a management structure that benefited from anyone having had direct experience delivering the mail. 

During classroom postal training, a shop steward, S., from one of the San Francisco units, was brought in to speak with us about the benefits of being in the letter carrier union. He led with the gem that 'all supervisors are assholes' and proceeded to regale us with management horror stories from his early days delivering mail some 25 years ago. One was this: When S. was still in his probationary period, his unit supervisor had surreptitiously followed him out on the route only to surprise S. midday to tell him that he was horrible at his job and that he should quit the postal service. S. finished out the day before sharing what had happened with his then shop steward. The shop steward told the manager that he was engaging in harassment of an employee and the manager backed off. 

My experience with the shop steward, L., at the unit where I had been posted was less-than-desirable, unfortunately. One of the first things he told me--within earshot of management--was that the supervisors at our unit were 'good guys' and that I could go to them with any questions or concerns. Um, isn't that your fucking job? -why I pay union dues? Never mind that this was after I'd already been told by my OJI (on-the-job-instructor) that management and the shop steward had somehow colluded to fuck the OJI out of 80% of his beloved route that he'd had for over 20 years and that he'd quit the union in response. 

In addition to being a suck-up, L. thought that lending me a ratty old safari hat was somehow a huge help while I was out on the route. I already had a sunhat. I'd rather have had a route map, but no one seemed to have an updated one on hand. The mantra was simply: Follow the mailI had just spent 7 years working mostly outside and knew how to protect myself from the sun. What I didn't know were how to 'follow the mail' and how to deliver parcels to the best of my ability. I wound up lugging the lent hat around a couple of days before politely giving it back to L. 

I know I posted about this incident before, but for the uninitiated, when first meeting my OJI, he presented me with a 121-question handout that I needed to learn as worked the job. My OJI told me to go to the break room (I knew where that was, right?) and initial down the list of questions on all the pages while he cased (read: sorted) the mail for the day. I had ten minutes. Using info. from the classroom training all new hires undergo, I could answer a few of the questions with confidence. I initialed those and left the other 100 plus questions blank telling the OJI that I wasn't able to complete the packet as I didn't yet know the answers. The next day I saw the OJI, he handed me the packet of questions again, but instead of going question by question, I was supposed to sign and date the final page stating that I had read and knew the answers to all the questions presented to me. (This paperwork, really, was about the USPS being able to cover its ass, if I were to fuck up royally while on the job. Like, she initialed she knew 'x,y,z...it's not on us!) Knowing that the OJI thought very little of the shop steward, I quietly went to L. and asked what I should do. The shop steward told me to go to management if I were having a problem with the OJI. I thanked him and I left it for another day. 

***

Some unit managers give their new hires four training days and some give three before new carriers are sent out alone on a route. I received three days...sort of. On the second training day, my OJI had a scheduled absence. On that day, I helped a kindly older carrier on his route and all went fairly well. We made good time and I then went out with him on his split (this is when a carrier helps out another carrier complete a portion of his or her route). Day three saw me back with my OJI. I had become a bit familiar with the OJI's route having done a portion of it on my first day of training. One our second day together (I write 'together' but he was elsewhere on the route and not available by phone, interestingly), the OJI had given me various streets (some linked on foot and some one had to drive to) to deliver mail and small parcels along. He'd taken the large parcels on that part of the route for me, so I only had to contend with what could fit in my satchel and what I could carry in my arms. As I trundled along the route I'd walked just 72 hours before, I realized that I had forgotten to grab two parcels from the truck. Knowing this, I made a mental note to deliver all the mail on that loop (a designated portion of street/s that the mail is bundled into and put either in one's arm or in one's satchel) before returning to the work vehicle for the parcels left behind. I'd driven off from the unit around 9a that morning and it was now nearing 11.30a. I'd determined that I would get out those last two pieces of mail before taking my designated ten minute break. Back at the work vehicle, I was bent over the driver's side seat with one hand holding the small parcels and one hand holding the scanner with my feet on the foot board, derriere to the sidewalk. I was doing a bit of preliminary scanning as the addresses for these deliveries were directly across from where my work truck was parked when suddenly I heard a bellowing voice behind me: WHAT ARE YOU DOING??!!!

Given both that I thought I was alone and I was bent over in a rather exposed position, my body had an immediate stress response to being yelled at. -tightness and heat felt in the sternum and my heart began beating like a drum. I turned my head 'round and there stood the afternoon manager, K. K. had already proven himself to be a barky S.O.B.--berating carriers while they cased the mail about taking too long on their lunch breaks--, but I had somewhat naively hoped that I might be able to stay out of his crosshairs, at least initially. K., with scrunched up eyes and tight mouth, belted out again the 'what do you think you're doing' line and all I could do was bleat: I'm delivering parcels? WHY IS YOUR WINDOW DOWN?! WHERE IS YOUR SATCHEL?! Mind you, I'm technically still in the work vehicle, so the window is down because of that. The satchel, well, the satchel was empty as I'd just finished my loop and thought that running over two small parcels across the street might not merit taking it. Although, I could have been taking the satchel. How was K. to know as I was still in my work vehicle? 

What did make sense in all the yelling was that, really, one must scan the parcel directly in the vicinity of the house to which it is being delivered. My having started scanning in the vehicle was a no-no. In case of theft, the USPS can, again, cover their ass, by stating that the carrier did his or her due diligence. The scanner would show proof of correct delivery. Speaking of the scanner, the old ball and chain, the reason shouty K. knew exactly where I was along the route is because each scanner assigned to an individual carrier is kitted out with a GPS tracker. Management knows where carriers are at all times. I knew this and I knew that I would likely be followed on my route considering what shop steward S. shared with us during classroom training, but what I didn't know was that it would take place so soon after starting work. 

Even though I was freaked out, I had the presence of mind to tell K. that he'd startled me. -told him I was having a stress response. He looked confused. 'But I always follow carriers on their routes. It's part of my job.' I didn't say, but wish I had had the presence of mind to say was: Is it also part of your job to sneak up behind unsuspecting employees and yell at them? I can't remember what all else he said, but it was a load of criticism. As the old adage goes: You catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar. And I just envisioned his never-ending penchant for yelling and thought, fuck this shit. I told K. that I didn't think that the job was for me, but because I had integrity and respected the mail, that I would finish out the day and then be done. Then I asked him if I could take my ten minute break. He seemed fine with it, so while I sat in my work truck I watched him walk to his personal vehicle parked just down the way from me, get in and sit (also for ten minutes). Once back on the route, K. followed (this time not sneakily) behind me as I delivered the mail. He shadowed me for about an hour. I couldn't figure out why as I told him I was quitting. His trailing me made me feel panicked; I picked up the pace as if I were going to outrun him. I recall him telling me that he couldn't do what mail carriers do--he was a transfer into management from H.R. after his position was dissolved--and did I think I could be a mail carrier because I was, as he so indelicately put it, 'skinny'. So, I guess I was trying to tucker him out. It was nearing 12.45p, so I told him that I wanted to take lunch. Before I could, however, he provided me with unsolicited positive feedback: I was adept at holding and delivering mail, I was quick, blah-blah-blah. He talked for what felt like an eternity before I was able to excuse myself and go on lunch break. 

Done with my portion of the route, I headed back to the unit by 3p. K. is the morning manager, so I was looking forward to handing in my lanyard, scanner and satchel to the afternoon manager who was as sleepy-seeming as K. was shouty. I saw K's personal vehicle in the parking lot and thought, Shit! As I entered the unit, I greeted them both. K. wanted me to come to his desk. I told him I'd be right over--I just needed to leave a note for the OJI regarding one of his customers and drop the outgoing mail in its respective hamper. En route to the K's desk I began clocking out and was about to return my scanner to its cradle when K. told me not to clock out as I wasn't finished. I said, 'Oh, no, I am finished. I'm done.' K. didn't seem to get it, so, as I was taking off my lanyard and putting the satchel down on his desk, I told him that I quit. He said, 'Oh, I didn't understand you before...' Maybe he expected me to yell back at him after his shitty little ambush?  Maybe he expected me to not finish out the day? Who knows? And, at this point, who cares?


13 comments:

  1. Huge sigh. Dare I guess that the USPS is having attracting and retaining staff?

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    1. So much difficulty! The nice postal carrier with whom I briefly worked said exactly that. The job is poorly paid & the hours are long. Starting wage is $22 & the days are often 10+ hours 5-6 days per week. Because it's a federal job, the benefits and regular pay raises would be the only reason to join the USPS. That and if you've a strong union presence.

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  2. Not the way to keep staff....

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  3. Popping back to ask a follow up question. I read a book Mary Trump wrote, but wasn't aware her brother had written one. Can you give me the name of the book to add to my list? Will pop back to read you latest post, just wanted to follow up with you.

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    1. Responded to your query back on your most recent post!

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  4. Replies
    1. It was a real shame. The classroom trainers spoke very highly of their local carriers' union and of their unit in particular. You don't know what you don't know, you know?

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  5. I'm so sorry. No wonder they're having trouble keeping workers. It's a hard enough job without having assholes running the place. Funny that K thought when you said you quit you weren't serious.

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    1. To be honest, Liz. I don't think he understood my turn-of-phrase as English is not his first language.
      And I'm sorry, too. I really thought I could do the job and do it well.

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  6. What a bite. If this had been a decent shop, you would be a great mail carrier.

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  7. It's quite clear that this has peed you off considerably, and I think I would have been too. Why don't organizations like this understand that they would be much more efficient if they looked after their workers properly? We all want to do a good job and be respected for it, and left to get on with it in our own way.

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A piece of your mind here:

USPS...adieu!

I may have waited a bit too long to finish the story of my brief sojourn with the USPS as the memories of my time delivering mail are alread...