What It’s Like To Work For The U.S. Postal Service

mail is weird, to be fairJess Stoner’s essay in The Morning News about working as a contract worker — “city carrier assistant” — for the U.S. Postal Service (“YOU EXIST TO REDUCE OVERTIME” as her boss screamed at her) is revelatory and maddening and great. Stoner was hired at $15.13 an hour, earning $1000 every two weeks. As she outlines, though, it’s much more complicated than that.

I lost 17 pounds during my first six weeks delivering the mail. At my station, each route, as long as 12 miles, was configured to take around six hours, which was supposed to include two 10-minute paid breaks and an unpaid 30-minute lunch, which comes out of your paycheck whether you take it or not. I was delivering the mail six days a week and Amazon packages on Sundays. I never once took a lunch. The union steward from West Texas chastised me, told me I had to take those breaks, because the union had fought hard for them. But I finally wasn’t doing terribly: I was mostly finishing my routes under time and taking auxiliary routes (working 30 minutes to two hours on another route after finishing the first); I was still getting screamed at most days.

Jess has worked up to 12 days in a row, which is fairly common for a CCA, and she writes about how her day often begins with waiting at the station for an assignment off the clock. This can take up to two hours. She also recounts being bitten by a dog on her route — a thing that, according to the National Assoc. of Letter Carriers, happens to 10 workers a day:

The dog now safely inside, I sat down in their driveway, still holding their mail, while the wife helped me clean the wound. I told her I was going to have to call my boss; I was, after all, hurt while at work. When my assistant supervisor answered, she asked if I could keep delivering the mail, and I said I could, so I did. All bandaged up, I finished my route, without that dreamed-of lunch, and then did an hour on another.

After I arrived at the station, I sought out my head supervisor and asked if she had heard the news. “You’re probably going to get fired,” she said.

Stoner left her job eventually, after she ended up in the E.R. with a back injury, but she’s still an advocate for the USPS and still, at the end of the day, loved the work she did. She says we should always empty our mailboxes, tip our mail carriers for the holidays, and keep our dogs on leashes. Also she suggests leaving snacks by your mailbox which, omg, is incredibly sad but is maybe something we should do.

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