Thursday, April 30, 2015

Thoughts on "Free Trade" - Why Should a Postal Worker Care?

By Mel Carriere

I was absent from the Tsunami for a few days because I got caught up in a three day running battle with a CCA in Wisconsin over the subject of "Free Trade," and that sometimes frustrating and often aggravating exchange distracted me from my blogging duties here.  That young man from the badger state tends to think the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be a great economic boon for all parties, and he bases this conclusion on economic studies that he probably pulled from a textbook somewhere.  This old codger living in The Golden State, on the other hand, cites the textbook of experience in opposing the TPP as a bad deal that will siphon away whatever few manufacturing jobs are left in our country and probably have a negative effect on wage levels.  I don't think the treaty will be good for our trading partners either, as it tends to favor huge multinational corporations at the expense of middle class small businessmen.

The reason I draw these conclusions is because I live a stone's throw away from Tijuana, Mexico, so I have seen the effects of these deals up close and personally.  The photo you see here of the hills of Tijuana somewhat approximates the view I have when I drive to work every morning.  The spectacle is deceptively impressive; those hills seem to be bustling with energy and prosperity, but you don't have to go too far across the border into the real TJ to see complete poverty and hopelessness.  A fair share of Mexico's economic woes are the result of another "free trade" pact, this being the North American Free Trade Agreement that was enacted on January 1, 1994.

I put "free trade" in quotes because I think the term is a misnomer, a dangerous misrepresentation that disguises the real intentions of the powers that push these accords into existence.  Free trade in itself sounds like a really swell thing after all, doesn't it?  It implies that I provide a good and service for you and in return you give me fair value for that product.  But these free trade deals don't appear to provide fair value for 99% of the citizens effected by them.  They tend to be a heavily lopsided load that tilts precariously in favor of corporations, while working people on both sides of the border or the ocean or whatever geographic feature separates the signatories get run over by the spinning wheels of the ugly contraption.

According to the CCA in Wisconsin I am not supposed to use anecdotal evidence, but anecdotes provide the tempering wisdom of experience and are what makes an old codger like me look upon the textbook evidence used by supporters of the TTP, NAFTA and other similar accords with a cynical eye.  We the working men and women of America have basically sold our birthrights for a pot of beans by being seduced into supporting these cleverly worded compacts.  For the last twenty years politicians on both sides of the aisle have been telling us how fine and dandy they are, and meanwhile practically all of the living wage manufacturing jobs have departed for cheaper shores and our children are left with the prospect of subsistence wages at Wal Mart and McDonalds.  These free trade deals are no good for our "trading" partners either.  I have family in Mexico, and I have heard the woeful tales about the financial devastation that took place among Mexican small businessmen who couldn't compete with Costco and Home Depot and other Yankee brand names that popped up in Tijuana after NAFTA was implemented.  Yes this story is an anecdote, I don't have any clever statistics to support it, but this anecdote is supported by the fact that desperate Mexican citizens have increasingly turned to organized crime as the only way to make a living; and coincidental or not the rise of the Mexican narco economy seems to have run in lock step with the implementation of NAFTA.

I know we as Postal Workers all expected great things from President Barack Obama, and I know some of you still cling to your faith in this man as tenaciously as that angry pit bull clings to the leg of your postal trousers, but I think it's time to look reality in the eye and say that he has disappointed us on this and other issues.  First he crawled into bed with the Postmaster General over the question of 6 day delivery, and now he has jumped beneath the covers with the Corporate henchmen on the right who are the only ones who will benefit from so-called "free trade."  Luckily there are still voices of reason out there defending American jobs; Elizabeth Warren and Martin O'Malley from Maryland being among them.  But the coronation of Hillary as the Democratic candidate seems to be all but complete, and if past performance of the Clintons in the arena of "free trade" is an indicator of future results, then I am afraid the American worker could be in trouble.

So why should the American Postal worker care?  In the first place, most of us have children, and the job prospects for our maturing children seem to be increasingly bleak.  "Stay in school!" we preach to them, and we bust our butts working overtime to help them get through college, thinking that will be an automatic ticket to their prosperous future. Then after so many hours working with a sweating brow and aching bones we are faced with the harsh reality of "degree inflation," meaning that the value of a college degree has gone down because basically everybody is going to school.  It turns out that not all college degrees are created equal, but there are no good paying manufacturing jobs to pick up the refugees who didn't get the return on the fat University buck that they expected.

Cheap wages from the Wal-Mart economy also reduce the bargaining power of our Unions.  There are plenty of struggling employees dissatisfied with Wal Mart's magnanimous wage increase to $9 dollars an hour who will gladly trade it for the relatively robust $15 an hour offered to the entry level Postal employee.  Lots of people working for slave wages also means that there is less disposable income out there; resulting in less to spend online ordering goods from Amazon and other distributors, leading to less Postal Revenue and more fuel for the Postmaster to scream "Poverty!" as a justification to keep our wages stagnant.

Maybe it is time to hold our politicians' feet to the fire.  Blind faith in our so-called champions is leading Postal employees and the country at large down the path to third world status, the same bleak horizon that confronts me from across the border every day.

Read about more anti-postal creeps to watch for on Mel's Hub Pages account

The Postal Tsunami is a powerful wave propelled by copious quantities of Starbuck's coffee, which is not cheap.  I have nothing to do with ad selection here, but unless these ads completely annoy or offend you I would appreciate if you could check out what my sponsors to the right and down below have to say.  Thanks for your support.

Image from:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What Do You Want from your Next Generation Postal Vehicle?

By Mel Carriere

At long last we have received the new scanners in our office.  They came in Tuesday and beeped noisily and unrelentingly as a clerk put in the batteries and set them up for use.  A co-worker and I posited, only half jokingly, that this was a scheme by management to get us out of the office quicker.  It worked, because the noise was unbearable and everybody was hustling to get out to the street.

With the new scanners installed I guess the next step is the NGV, the so-called Next Generation Vehicle that will help us keep pace with the package-heavy delivery environment of the future.  Letter Carriers realize that more than anything else we need a vehicle that will allow us to load packages easier by letting us freely walk in and out of the back without having to double ourselves into a pretty postal blue colored L shape.  I suffered a double inguinal hernia in 1998 that I think was a direct result of this bending process.  Just so you know, the inguinal canals in which this hernia appears are the two rabbit holes that a man's family jewels burrow themselves into for safety when they are cold or they are scared.  I am 6 foot 3, so I have to do a lot of bending to arrange packages in the LLV, and I'm sure that's how my rabbit holes were ravaged.  I know other Letter Carriers that have had this same hernia.  I call it mailman's hernia, but I don't think that's the correct medical term.  I digress.

The USPS is now busily searching for a manufacturer for this Next Generation Vehicle, and they have a long laundry list of specifications that must be met by the winning bidder.  I am sure most of these rigid specifications can be ignored or worked around if a manufacturer is willing to shave a few bucks off the price. I am also pretty sure that input from Letter Carriers is being completely ignored in the design selection process, and that most of the requirements are being dreamed up by people who have either never delivered mail or haven't dropped a letter into a mailbox in anger since about the days of the Pony Express.

In light of this dearth of input by people who actually deliver mail, I thought I would create my own "laundry list" of specifications that I think would be helpful additions to any Postal NGV.  Let me know your own ideas in the comments section.  Together we can design the optimal Postal Vehicle of the future.

  • I want a built in "Panic Room," completely isolated from visual, auditory, or unpleasant olfactory signals coming from mentally unstable Postal Customers that I choose to hide from rather than confront.  When I am on my uncompensated lunch break and see a stupid question approaching on two legs I would like to press the Panic Room button and vanish from view entirely.
  • A party deck on the top of the vehicle that I could reach from a folding staircase inside the truck would be nice, if not essential.  There would also have to be a retractable lounge chair up there or I'm not signing off on it.  From this vantage point I could eat my lunch in style, being master of all I survey as I kick back sipping a beverage from one of those cool coconut cups with an umbrella straw stuck into it.  A wet bar and refrigerator would also be part of the deal, of course, but I'll consent in the interests of safety that it only be stocked with non alcoholic kiddie drinks.
  • A rotating machine gun turret capable of firing high velocity paint balls would be a must as a non lethal but excruciatingly painful and messy way to discourage annoying yapping Chihuahuas and equally annoying yapping customers trying to get their checks early on the first of the month.  Of course, this would require an extra seat for a Postal "tail gunner" who could quickly dispatch approaching threats like skateboarders trying to set up a vehicle collision for an easy payday. 
  • On a more serious note, I demand a black box flight recorder with cameras and audio recorders to back me up when a dog owner swears I straight on kicked their Cocker Spaniel but it was clearly a soccer style shot for extra distance.
What kind of exciting features would you like to see in your Postal Vehicle of the 21st century?  I look forward to seeing your interesting, unusual, and hopefully irreverent comments below.  You can be the first to do this by clicking on the link that says "No comments."

Read Mel's Latest CCA advice on Hub Pages - Have Satchel will Travel

The Postal Tsunami is a powerful wave propelled by copious quantities of Starbuck's coffee, which is not cheap.  I have nothing to do with ad selection here, but unless these ads completely annoy or offend you I would appreciate if you could check out what my sponsors to the right and down below have to say.  Thanks for your support.

Image from:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Thoughts on Time Card Masturbation - Are you Screwing Yourself with your Clock Rings?

By Mel Carriere

My last article here on the Tsunami did exceedingly, unexpectedly well, and I am deeply grateful to all of you who continue to support my humble efforts here on this site.  I stirred up a bit of controversy in that previous post, which is always good in the blog business.  My fervent prayer is to continue to piss off, offend, and annoy at least half of you in my search for those ultimate truths that will lead us to the Postal promised land.

One of the things that troubles me severely about some of my postal co-workers is how anxiously and enthusiastically they go about cutting their own throats, especially when it comes to making the correct clock rings that will keep their supervisors off their backs and protect their routes from being added to when route inspection time comes around.  It almost seems as if they enjoy being painfully violated by their own time cards, and then crying woefully and ruefully about it afterward when they find out they are getting another ten or fifteen minute add.

A high percentage of letter carriers, I am convinced, are decidedly sadomasochistic in their outlook on life.  I don't know whether they dress up in leather and play with whips and chains when they are off the clock; that's none of my business and I don't stand in judgment like Moses up there, but when they do this while wearing a postal uniform it certainly seems like they can't wait to get home before enjoying a good self-inflicted thrashing.

The problem is that letter carriers seem to have a deathly, highly superstitious fear of street time.  The numbers 721 are the equivalent of 666 in the minds of many, and they run from them like they would flee from old Beelzebub himself.  The very second that the LLV pulls into the parking lot they are racing to the clock to punch 722, as if these particular digits had a talismanic, protective influence over their lives.

I don't understand why they feel this way. I suppose we could engage in a bit of numerology or alchemy to figure out the negative mystical properties of 721, but there are plenty of other blogs you could turn to for this kind of arcane advice.  You can't say they do it to keep the supervisors happy, because the bewitched necromancer DOIS machine doesn't like office time either.  It demands only 5 minutes (8 clicks) of PM office time and unleashes an unbreakable curse up to the 7th generation upon letter carriers who disobey this stricture.  The union isn't coaching them to do this either.  Office time has strict 18 and 8 standards associated with it.  On the other hand, there are no street standards.  The Union wants us all to go slow on the street.  Slothfulness on the street results in route cuts, which means more routes and more letter carriers being promoted to regular.

The thing is, you really don't have to go slow on the street.  You can maintain an honest pace and still get it right.  There is no cheating involved, if you are worried about your conscience.  All you have to do is to stop f***ing yourself with your time card, and this process is really pretty easy.  A few suggestions:

  • If you are loading DPS or parcels, make sure you are on street time.  These are legitimate street functions.  In the same vein, while you are unloading your vehicle be careful to remain on street time.  You can't get in trouble for this; during route inspections your Inspector has you on street time for these activities.
  • If you carry a pivot or overtime on another route, don't include the travel time you spent getting there and back when you are doing your clock rings.  The travel time stays on your route.  You only change routes for the time you actually spent delivering the OT or pivot.  ODL carriers frequently create problems for themselves because of this. I knew a fellow who used to always give the other route his travel time when he was doing his rings, and you couldn't talk him out of it.  As a result he got stuck with an impossibly long route, because the street time for his route was lower than what it should have been and management kept adding ten or fifteen minutes on every adjustment.
  • This same sort of self induced time card copulation is seen with carriers who think they are really screwing management by deliberately going slow in the office and not making standards.  The person they are really screwing is themselves; because at route adjustment time their route can be adjusted to standards.  I knew a carrier with an extremely long route on the street who got an add because he was not making 18 and 8.
In summation, the point I am trying to make is that street time is good, office time is bad.  But if erotic self stimulation with a foreign object is your thing, visit a local sex shop.  They have a wide selection of hygienic devices carefully encased in protective plastic for your safe self gratification.  Don't use your time card - that thing is nasty.  You don't know how many dozens of unwanted, perhaps unwashed hands touch it every day as it sits there on the rack by the time clock.

The Postal Tsunami is a powerful wave propelled by copious quantities of Starbuck's coffee, which is not cheap.  I have nothing to do with ad selection here, but unless these ads completely annoy or offend you I would appreciate if you could check out what my sponsors to the right and down below have to say.  Thanks for your support.

Photo of Postal Moses leading us to the Postal Promised Land from:Charlton Heston as Moses in the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Is your Supervisor the Real Safety Hazard?

By Mel Carriere

Please excuse my extended absence.  The normally irrepressible, coastal wrecking Tsunami was dammed and channeled into submission by a sore throat and headache I have been battling for the last couple of days.  My brain felt like a bag of wet garbage that has been marinating in the sun for three days, and there were no ideas at all dripping out of that malodorous mush.  All the same, I finally beat the bug by going to bed early Thursday and Friday.  I think my brain is cranking again; I'll let you be the judge of whether I should continue writing or just go back to sleep.

I managed to keep one droopy, feverish eye on Facebook as I convalesced, and there was a lot of buzz there about the LLV that overturned in Prince Georges, Maryland.  You can see the gruesome aftermath for yourself in the photo above.  There seems to be no official statement of the identity of the employee yet, who is reported to be in critical condition, but of course the word gets around on social media by the coworkers of this letter carrier, and reliable people with a lot of online contacts report that the carrier involved in the accident is a Rural Carrier Associate (RCA) who was speeding and not wearing his seat belt.

Speeding and not wearing a seat belt were admittedly both very poor decisions on the part of this letter carrier, who is paying the price for his recklessness.  But it is not surprising to me that he did it, because we see this sort of thing every day, mostly among our newest employees, the RCAs and CCAs of the world, who get caught cutting corners all the time in a desperate attempt to shave a second here and a second there to appease the ridiculously unrealistic expectations of their supervisors.  What is surprising to me is the lack of fingers I see pointing at Postal Management, who undoubtedly created the climate that sent this RCA flying from his vehicle and his LLV flipping over across the median, where it came to rest considerably worse for the wear in the unnatural position it appears in the above photo.  If the condition of the LLV is any clue, I shudder to think about how the driver wound up.

I'm sure the morning after the accident they had a somber little stand up talk at the station where this carrier worked, probably delivered by the same supervisor who was cracking the whip behind that RCA the day his LLV flipped over.  While painfully biting his or her tongue, this supervisor most assuredly told the assembled employees to slow down and to make sure to wear seat belts.  We've all attended this concert before, and we'll be there again. Then, after the gloomy little speech was over  this same supervisor probably went about distributing the work load the same way as the day of the accident, perhaps piling on even more since they were now short a body.

The audience for that speech was undoubtedly peppered by several grizzled old veterans like you and I, shaking their heads smugly and self-righteously while thinking about what this youngster involved in the accident should have done or what he shouldn't have done.  It's easy to say "Oh, I would never do that," when your job is safe and you can take your time without any fear of not passing probation or not being brought back when your year is up, or whatever time period applies for the RCAs.  But if you think back, way back, there was a probably a time when many of us freshly minted letter carriers were doing the same sort of things to shave a minute here or there to meet the impossible demands of some barking, bulldog boss.  Who hasn't left the seat belt off to be able to jump in and out of the vehicle quicker on stop and hop deliveries?  Who hasn't driven a mounted route with mail on the arm?  Luckily the great majority of us lived through these days and grew older and wiser in the process, so that we could stand in judgement of one who did not come out so well.

Here we are in the present, therefore, pointing a self-righteous finger at this young man instead of directing our digit toward where it really belongs, which is Postal Management.  And such is the reason why these abusive practices and policies never get changed; because we focus too much on the symptoms of the disease - the RCA that flipped his vehicle over and is now lying in a hospital bed; and not on the underlying cause of the disease - this being the supervisors and managers pushing this unfortunate fellow, all of whom are sleeping tonight in their own beds.  We all nod solemnly at that stand up talk, say of course we agree that he should have been wearing his seat belt and that's the end, the investigation stops there.  Delivery supervisors are never held accountable for their culpability in shamelessly dishing out unrealistic expectations to employees driving dangerous, poorly maintained vehicles in order to drive meaningless, misleading, manipulable "variances" that are the end all of everything in the management mindset.  Maintenance supervisors are rarely held accountable for faking reports to keep this chicken wire and duct-tape patched LLV fleet illegally and immorally on the road.  And meanwhile this poor kid lying in the hospital somehow winds up as the villain of the piece, rather than the victim that he really is.

The Postal Tsunami is a powerful wave propelled by copious quantities of Starbuck's coffee, which is not cheap.  I have nothing to do with ad selection here, but unless these ads completely annoy or offend you I would appreciate if you could check out what my sponsors to the right and down below have to say.  Thanks for your support.

Photo from:

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bonehead Postal Supervisor Chest Thumping Revisited

By Mel Carriere

Honestly my New Year's Resolution was to treat my Postal Supervisors better here in my blog, not because I necessarily want to be nice to them or they deserve for me to be nice to them, but because I know the day of reckoning will eventually arrive when one of them will stumble upon one of my blogs and with probably a minimum of sleuth work be able to at least narrow down my location.  When that happens it might be possible through a collective group effort to figure out my secret identity, and then I might have to answer some awkward questions.  What has saved me up to the present is that I'm not sure if any of the supervisors at my station can read above the fourth grade level, so reading blogs is not really their thing.  Playing Fart Cat on the cell phone is more their speed.  Also, if one of them was to catch wind of me; hopefully the same wind being blown downstream from the Fart Cat - since they all hate each other and do not communicate I don't think I would be in any danger from their combined deductive reasoning figuring out who I really am.

Although I have vowed to be gentle sometimes I can't help but chime in on bad supervisor behavior, especially when their ridiculous chest thumping gets out of control and makes me mad.  

In my station now we have one manager and two supervisors.  The station manager just does not want to be there because it is somewhat of a demotion for her but she got stuck with the job because she's known as a tough get things done problem solver who gets sent in to crack the real hard cases.  Since our station is one of San Diego's problem children she got saddled with improving our numbers, but she's been beating her head against a wall for months now and we are just got getting any better and I can tell she just wants out while she can still salvage her reputation.  Every time I talk to her she has this distant, dazed look on her face.  When you tell her about some issue she responds cordially enough and acts like she cares, but nothing registers and nothing gets done.

The first supervisor is the one I have called "Dangerously Ditzy" because she forgets everything, to the point that she sometimes becomes a health hazard.  In the past she has forgotten about heat stricken employees lying comatose on a sidewalk who eventually had to be rescued by their co-workers.  I'm not complaining, however, because sometimes this forgetfulness works to my advantage.  If she comes after me about that ten clicks of overtime I didn't get authorized yesterday afternoon I can tell her I called and she probably just forgot because she was so busy.  If I'm nice enough about it odds are she will believe me.

The next Supervisor is the one I call the Chest Thumper.  This man is the stuff future Postmasters, District Managers and, God help us, Executive Vice Presidents are made of.  He has absolutely no idea what he is doing, but he will sit in his chair making bold, bombastic proclamations for everyone to hear, thinking that he is being an intimidating tough guy even though he is obviously not one.  One thing I have learned about success in Postal Management is that it doesn't matter what you really are, what matters is what the higher ups think you are.  So if you make enough noise about busting heads and laying down the law and cracking skulls you will get noticed even if you don't have a clue about how to operate a postal facility.  

Friday we had ten sick calls in our office, ten sick calls out of 25 routes.  It actually didn't turn out as bad as I thought; luckily the mail was pretty light and they called in the CCA Cavalry from all points of the compass to save the day.  But when I got back in the office that afternoon Chest Thumper was sitting at the Supervisor's desk, bragging to all the clerks present in very loud tones about he was going to do to keep it from happening again on Saturday.

In short, his strategy was to flag all the sick call employees in ERMS as "deems desirable" so if they try to call in again the next day they will be required by the automated ERMS system to bring medical documentation with them when they return.  I'm not sure, but I think this practice is illegal.  I may be mistaken, but I think that management can only require documentation after three consecutive days of calling in sick.  At any rate, I don't think it is wise to make a lot of noise and thump your chest about it because in our station the walls have ears and things like this have a sneaky way of being reported to the Union.

I wasn't really trying to be a smart-ass, but when I heard Mr. Chest Thumper brag about flagging everybody "deems desirable" I told him I didn't think it would work because it's tough for people to go to the doctor on Saturday because most of the doctors are closed, and emergency room visits typically have a high co-pay that nobody wants to dish out.  Therefore, if it was me I would probably just let it ride until Monday when I could go to my regular doctor for a note.  By doing this, I told him, he was kind of risking getting some sick calls on Monday too.

A clerk in our office was giggling secretly at me when I was debating Chest Thumper on the issue.  She probably thinks he's full of crap too.  I was glad I had a receptive audience, because Chest Thumper could not be dissuaded, and he didn't seem to appreciate me being less than supportive of his plans.

"Well, they can go to Urgent Care," he grumbled.

Chest Thumpers always have the answers and the last word.  I don't think they care about any potential grievances this sort of thing may bring about, because grievances are feathers in the Postal war bonnet for these people.  Grievances are what makes them get noticed.  

Despite Chest Thumper's ill conceived machinations Saturday turned out okay.  One of our Friday sickees came in, cased his mail and went home again, which was a good end run around the "deems desirable" process, I suppose.  There's no telling what he might have infected the station with, though.  Monday should be an interesting day.

Photo of my "Made in the Shade" LLV is my own.  It is a work of art, in case you had not noticed.

The Postal Tsunami is a powerful wave propelled by copious quantities of Starbuck's coffee, which is not cheap.  I have nothing to do with ad selection here, but unless these ads completely annoy or offend you I would appreciate if you could check out what my sponsors to the right and down below have to say.  Thanks for your support.