Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Keep your Butt in the Seat - Thoughts on Freelancing Letter Carriers

By Mel Carriere

Yesterday, which would have been Monday the 5th, the first grueling Monday in the Postal New Year, the manager called a stand-up talk.  You may call this a "service" talk in whatever particular regional postal dialect you speak, but I think you get the point.  Anyway, this call to muster brought about the expected grumbling along the lines of "Are you kidding a stand up talk on Monday?" accompanied by the heavy, reluctant dragging of feet toward the center of the workroom floor where the manager typically gives her talks.

If they are calling a stand up talk on a Monday you can bet it is because something serious happened, and as expected something did.  Turns out a local San Diego carrier had a "runaway" accident, which means his vehicle got away from him after he dismounted with the engine still running.  A "runaway," we were quickly told, is to be distinguished from a "rollaway," in which the vehicle breaks loose with the engine off.  Both are extremely serious incidents and often lead to folks getting injured or killed.  Thank goodness in this case nobody was hurt, but it still aroused enough negative attention to line us all up for a tongue lashing on a Monday.

I'm not here to lecture you all about safety.  I don't exactly have a stellar driving record myself. Two months ago I was struck by a vehicle passing on my left as I was making a left turn from the correct lane with my turn signal on.  That accident wasn't my fault, but several years ago I was guilty of striking a fixed object, an act that got me sentenced to postal driving school.  Still, I do my best not to be an out of control driver.  I wear my seat belt religiously and I never leave my vehicle running no matter how close I am to the mailboxes.  All the same, because of a few lamentable mishaps I will never be a member of the million mile club.  I will never hoist that plaque proudly as they take snapshots of my smiling mug for the union newsletter.

The reason I write this is because I am wondering why there are always those Postal Mavericks - free-lancing letter carriers I call them, just like the driver of that runaway vehicle, who always think they can do their own thing, make their own rules, essentially flip the proud postal eagle bird at the instructions given by the people that sign their paychecks.  I screw up like everybody else from time to time but I am always a good, obedient postal soldier and I do what I'm told.  As the Union constantly preaches, do what you are told and if what they tell you to do is wrong grieve it afterwards.  This is my mantra, and one would think it to be the guiding principle of all letter carriers everywhere. Obviously it is not.

Every time I train a CCA the first thing I tell them on the first day when we go out to the parking lot is that their cute little butt has to be in that LLV seat every time the engine is on, even if it is only for the vehicle check.  Even so, on day two one of my trainees got busted starting the engine while standing next to it, which naturally got me reprimanded for not teaching her the rules.  

What can I say?  I throw up my hands in hopeless defeat.  But it's not just safety; it seems like most people wearing a postal uniform do whatever they want, no matter what the post office tells them and in complete defiance of what the M-41 says.

One of coworkers never cleans out the mailboxes on his route, even after being reprimanded several times.  "I don't like doing that, I just want to deliver the mail," he protests.  "Well guess what, you get paid to do that, you jackrabbit," I tell him, but he doesn't care.  He keeps stuffing the boxes, to the knuckle-busting chagrin of every other letter carrier in the station that has the misfortune to deliver to the apartments on his route.

Another carrier keeps wasting time numbering parcels on his own route, even after the manager told him not to.  "I might have to go home in an emergency," he says in his defense.  I told him we are probably smart enough to figure out where his parcels go ourselves in an emergency but he keeps doing it, probably more because he is a slave to routine than anything else.

Another carrier refuses to chock his wheels in the parking lot, even after several scoldings by the safety captain and several replacement chocks that she gave him, which he promptly threw away.  I once saw him back over a chock with squealing, smoking wheels as he was dropping off the express mail, but that was the closest he ever got to a chock.  His hatred of those accursed wooden wedges is almost religious in intensity.  I think he just does it because he dislikes the safety captain, who can be somewhat of a loud-mouthed, meddlesome mother hen.

That same mother hen safety captain returns all mail to sender that is missing an apartment number, even if she knows where to deliver it, and is extremely vocal and adamant that the rest of us do likewise.  She actually walks around like some mail-killing missionary and tries to convert the rest of us to her doctrine.  In regard to safety issues she is the first to quote chapter and verse of the M-41, but when I pointed out that the M-41 says we are supposed to deliver misaddressed mail if we know where it goes she replied "Yeah, but that's not the way I do it." Period.  As with other tenets of religious faith that are clung to tenaciously, we tend to embrace the parts we like and ignore the sections that contradict our personal belief system. 

Other letter carriers refuse to fill out a 1571 and have it signed by a supervisor for mail that is being brought back from the street, as we have been instructed to do to the point of absurdity.  Instead they bring back a mountain of returned mail, dump it on the ledge and go home with a completely untroubled conscience.

I don't get it.  Am I the only letter carrier trying to do the right thing? Well, I admit I do cheat in harmless little ways that won't get me busted, but I make sure I dot the 'i' and cross the 't' in the proper way to make sure I cover my behind and won't get called into the office.  What's my problem?  Am I the only letter carrier that doesn't freelance - well except in the writing way, of course.

The carrier you see in the photo above compiled from an infamous You-Tube video was obviously another postal freelancer.  He jumped out of the vehicle with the engine on to deliver the mail to this gas station, then came back out running toward it in terror after the LLV did a complete 360 spin out into the street and then back into the gas station.  I invite you to watch this horror of horrors for yourself, if you haven't seen it already.  

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