Promotion to Postal 204b - A CCA Guide to The Dark Side
Postal Penny-Pitching Powerfully Persists
Since the 2007 recession and the disastrous decline in first class mail that followed, the United Postal Service has been in cost cutting mode. Route cuts, plant closures, service standard reductions, and a determined crusade to eliminate Saturday delivery have been a few of the methods used to bandage the bleeding bottom line. The creation of the reduced pay, increased work position of City Carrier Assistant (CCA), has been part and parcel of this trend. Then again, if you are reading this as a CCA, you probably don't want to hear any more about parcels after wearing yourself out delivering Amazon packages on Sunday.
Alas, even as the parcel business increases and the enfeebled mail flow shows signs of creeping up to its pre-recession high water mark, postal management continues to flop away like a grounded fish in a misguided attempt to nickel and dime its way back to profitability. The latest attempt at penny pitching seems to be a widespread trend to promote CCAs to 204b, a temporary supervisor position. Since you, the overworked, underappreciated City Carrier Assistant may be seduced by the hypnotizing allure of resting your tired posterior in a padded postal position of authority, you need to learn the dangers before you dive in to those shark infested waters. In particular, you should completely understand why the powers at be want you there, and what their real intentions are.
In weighing whether to cross over to the dark side, keep in mind that management is probably not asking you because they think you're special. Yes, you might be incredibly hard working, good looking, and overflowing with charm, wit and intelligence, but don't kid yourself. I realize you're new, but how many postal supervisors have you seen with those alluring qualities? At this point you can count the good ones on one hand, maybe one finger (no please don't use that nasty middle one). I've been working in the Postal Service for 22 years, and I still don't need two hands to count the good supervisors I've come across.
Where does the term "204b" come from?
The commonly used title of the position comes from section 204(b) of Public Law 68 - June 10, 1955, titled Dual Employment and Extra Duties:
"Sec. 204.(b) As the needs of the service require, an employee may be assigned from time to time to perform, without change in compensation, duties and responsibilities other than the duties and responsibilities specifically set forth in his position description..."
So Why Me?
So you wonder- why are they asking me, of all people, to move up to 204b? Why have I been blessed with this opportunity?
The truth is they have seen certain qualities in you, but those qualities might not be the ones you are most proud of. What they are counting on is a certain degree of naivete on your part; a potential to be molded and manipulated. They want to change you from a bright eyed, eager young CCA Jedi who still believes in truth and justice, into a soulless Postal Sith Lord automaton who follows orders without question and is willing to punish people on the slightest pretext, no matter how arbitrary.
You're just jealous Mel - you say. They've never asked you to be supervise, so you're intoxicated on the bitter brew of sour grapes.
Shaking my head slowly and shamefully, I stagger drunkenly a few steps back to my computer to reply to your comeback. It is not envy that has me in this inebriated state, but relief! A few years ago I accepted the offer to give management a try. Yes, I was tempted over to the dark side of the force and sat in the 204b chair for a horrible year and a half - the worst job I've ever had, by far. In the process, I almost had my own soul sucked out by the relentless tractor beam of the Management Death Star, but rescued myself before it was too late. Since then I have been asked to go back several times, but have always refused. Even today the nightmare lingers; the nightmare of being expected to do the impossible and to work ridiculously long, often unpaid hours to try and accomplish that which cannot be done.
Lately, however, those requests have stopped. A recent Postal trend, at least in my neck of the woods, seems to be that City Carrier Assistants alone are being asked to check their self-esteem and standards of decency at the door and jump into the dog eat dog, backstabbing world of Postal Management; a place where only gloomy, gray, humorless sharks survive by devouring all of the colorful, happy, frolicking fish on the reef.
In pointing out the reality of what you are going up against, I'm not going to advise you to accept or not. Lord knows the Postal Service needs good people in management, and maybe you will turn out to be one of the few. Perchance you will be able to withstand the ferocious Stockholm Syndrome cognitive dissonance you will be subjected to, and become a positive force for change in this organization. I thought the same about myself and gave it an honest effort, but it wasn't meant to be. Every day in the 204b job was as futile as trying to bail out the Titanic with a shot glass, so I gave it up.
Therefore, to help you make the right decision, here is your CCA Guide to The Dark Side. I've broken it down into categories which detail the insidious reasons they have fingered you for this role. Don't say you haven't been warned.
Reason One: You're Cheap
As a young Postal Jedi who just graduated from Postal Padawan academy, you need someone to dry off the moist remains of the placental sac still clinging tenaciously to the area behind your ears. Kindly allow me to do the honors. Toward this undertaking, the first reason I will reveal to you is the embarrassingly small price tag hanging Minnie Pearl style from your Postal Pith helmet. Maybe not a buck ninety-eight like Minnie's, but pretty durn close.
In other words - you're cheap. The 16 dollars an hour you will be paid is significantly more cost effective than the near $27 they will have to compensate a regular craft employee with; to which they will also tack on an extra bump to Level 17 supervisor pay. Not only do you not get the bump, but you'll still be making your piddling sixteen clams for every revolution of the big hand on the clock.
But Mel - you exclaim when an outburst of outraged disbelief, certainly my supervisor pay as a CCA has to be equitable with what regular craft employees doing the same job are making, right? Anything else just wouldn't be fair!
In response I say welcome to the Post Office, a place where - along with your self-esteem and standards of decency I mentioned earlier, you're also going to have to check your expectations of fairness with the maitre d.
Your miserable $16 dollars an hour is going to persist like the dull ache you had in your shoulder when you were lugging the mail around. Furthermore, your former affectionate examination of your paycheck will turn into gasps of horror when you realize you're not getting overtime anymore, either. In all probability, local management will expect you to do your job in eight hours and be paid accordingly, despite all of your legitimate protests that this is just not possible. So there you'll be at 6:30 PM, the last lonely soul in a tomb-like building, running over to the time recorder to clock yourself out. After this you'll plod heavily back to the desk for another two or three unpaid hours, to continue processing the pile of mostly meaningless reports you're expected to complete before you go home.
Reason Two: You're Gullible (not to mention scared)
As a fledgling City Carrier Assistant that still hasn't grown the wings the Postal Service expects to clip off, you continue to be somewhat overwhelmed by your surroundings. The Postal workroom floor is already a noisy place - orange hampers crashing noisily against metal APCs, lobster cages full of parcels slamming about in a raucous, dissonant chorus on the back dock, and 775 tubs full of letters and flats loudly smashing against the floor.
Now add to this the incessant ringing of the telephone, the ear piercing wail of delivery employees bedeviling you for guidance you don't have the experience to provide, and heartless, whip cracking managers demanding explanations for why you didn't finish doing their job 20 minutes ago, and you'll have an idea of the insane environment you will be immersing yourself into as a 204b.
As a newly hatched Postal baby who just popped out from the relatively peaceful place of the pre-Postal womb, sliding down the birth canal straight into the blinding reality of Postal existence, all of this noise is a shock to your system. It is designed to be. The deafening mayhem taking place all around you is deliberately tailored to confuse, disorient, not to mention scare the hell out of you. In this unhinged mental state, somewhat akin to being kidnapped or held hostage, you will do anything to cooperate with your captors. In order to ease the severe mental imbalance that you are going through, you might even convince yourself that you like them. This is called The Stockholm Syndrome. Look it up, it's real, and you don't have to be held prisoner at gunpoint to experience it.
No matter how badly your jailers treat you, of course you want to please them, because they have paid you this great honor of selecting you for the supervisor position. Because of this you will endure the ridiculously long hours they expect you to work, finish up the endless litany of tasks your boss has "delegated" to you while he goes home early, and tolerate the subtle, sometimes not so subtle insults directed at your ability to do the job. You'll put up with all of this, and more, because you want to reward the faith you think they put in you.
Furthermore, as a Postal greenhorn who has not read the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, you tremble in abject fear of what might happen if you speak out against your inhumane treatment. Not only will I be demoted to carrying mail again - your quaking soul whispers as you cower behind the computer in genuine fear that your hulking, bull headed station manager is about to throw something at you; but I might even be fired! As a newly hired CCA you have failed to take into consideration that you have recourse against unjust treatment, and your newbie naivete is exactly what Postal Management is banking on.
Reason Three: You're a convenient Fall Guy (Or Gal)
Another good reason for selecting a babe in the woods CCA like you to fill a supervisor's seat, is that you can be a convenient scapegoat when things run afoul. You're still new, you're not jaded and cynical yet, and as such you are probably much more likely to believe the sincere, honest intentions of your coworkers when they tell you to do something that seems a little sketchy.
For instance, I know a CCA 204b who loaned out her computer user ID and password to her fellow supervisors. Even though it shouldn't be, this practice is quite common in the Postal Service, an organization that loves to play musical chairs with supervisors, leaving them in a particular locale just long enough to become competent before moving them elsewhere. As a result, supervisors often do not have access to the computer programs they need to perform their jobs, which obligates them to borrow the login information of their coworkers.
While most of the time this practice is harmless enough, a password that falls into malicious, unscrupulous hands can have adverse consequences for the newbie that is coaxed into providing it. In the case of my CCA friend, her fellow supervisors were using her login to access the time and attendance system, in order to give themselves lucrative out of schedule pay. Of course the anomaly was noticed, and my CCA friend got in trouble. Not surprisingly, the actual perpetrators of the deed suffered from a severe bout of muteness about that time, and were more than willing to let my friend take the fall for them. Eventually she was able to exonerate herself, but the consequences could have gone way beyond being demoted back down to letter carrier - she could have lost her job completely for falsifying documents.
I have also seen a 204b demoted for curtailing mail that his station manager had been delaying for several days. She told this poor sucker specifically not to dispatch this mail for delivery, then left him running the post office by himself on a Saturday. Not surprisingly, an Inspector from the Operations Department showed up and found these huge piles of overripe mail stinking up the workroom floor. The station manager swore innocence, and I'll let you guess who got in trouble. Here's a hint - it wasn't the station manager.
Rate Your Bosses!
How does the management behavior described here compare to your workplace (Postal or not)?
Parting Advice - Learn to swim with the Sharks
Now I have exposed you to the grim truth of why you have been asked to exchange your fashionable green, blue or purple Postal Jedi lightsaber for the tasteless red of a Postal Sith Lord - a color that clashes horribly with your tie or pants suit, by the way. Hopefully at this point you will be better armed to make a decision that will definitely affect your future peace of mind and livelihood in more ways than one. Although I do not envy you at all for your so-called promotion, allow me to impart another word or two of advice before you voluntarily turn yourself in at your local Postal Penitentiary.
DON'T BE MEEK! The meek will inherit the Earth, true, but Planet Postal is a completely different celestial body, in another solar system entirely. Your meekness has no power there, in those predator patrolled waters. The other sharks swimming around you on that murky, dismal, ecologically damaged postal reef can sense a single drop of blood in the ocean from several nautical miles away, they turn voracious at the merest whiff of weakness, and will rip you into shreds in a bloody, blurry feeding frenzy if you allow them.
Don't allow them. Stick up for yourself. Let your oppressors know you don't appreciate their abuse, and they will back off. They know they are wrong, and they know they can get in trouble for not giving you the respect you are entitled to as a federal employee. The biggest mistake a neophyte 204b makes is keeping quiet and not complaining about bad treatment, probably out of fear of being fired. But doing the reverse is better - if you show the bullies that you can bully back with the best you will be accepted into the fold all the quicker. These brutes in suits aren't really searching for people who are competent at their jobs, what they are really looking for is another co-conspirator they can count on to keep the time honored Postal tradition of despotic, tyrannical management behavior alive. If they see the potential for bullying in you, you'll be accepted into the club with open arms.
That doesn't mean you really have to be a bully, you can easily fake it and get away with it. If you dare to put into practice the oft-neglected technique of treating employees with respect, you'll be surprised how they will bend over backwards to help make you look good. The Postal higher-ups perusing your satisfactory results will then just assume you're a bully - it is not in their nature to conceive of achieving success being anything else. In this manner perhaps your soul, self-esteem and sanity just might survive the turbulent, chaotic ride through the Postal Dark Side.