Regular Vs. City Carrier Assistant: Who Makes the Best Postal 204B Candidate?
The Devil Who Knows or the Devil Who Doesn't?
Someone has to captain this sinking ship until it runs aground, right?
Postal 204B Supervisors do not elicit a lot of love or sympathy from people who read my articles on the subject. In fact, my admission of guilt to brief collaboration with Postal Management is worse than a confession of war crimes to some, whose corresponding comments make me cringe. Nonetheless, I make no apologies about my past participation in this cabal of necromancers, tasked to hypnotize their thralls through the mystically meaningless numerology of DOIS and other poorly designed, inaccurately tested, and shoddily implemented programs. My thinking is, no matter how much you hate them, supervisors are a necessary evil.
Better the Devil you know than the Devil you don't is an old Irish proverb that applies in most cases, including where these largely unloved postal bosses are concerned. We may have bad managers, but we learn to accommodate ourselves to them in time, adjusting to the idiosyncrasies of their personalities and, dare I say, sometimes figuring out how to turn the tables and manipulate them. Often the result is reversed - the bad bosses have brainwashed us into accepting their Stockholm Syndrome reign of terror.
Whatever the case, when a new boss: the devil we don't know, comes on the scene, they are an unknown quantity, meaning that the awkward and uncomfortable accommodation curve starts over.
Every day post office employees have to make a deal with known or unknown devils, in order to keep the blood pressure down and go home without carrying a ticking time-bomb payload of stress that may explode in our domestic lives. However, this give and take between employee and supervisor has become increasingly difficult, because the spawn of Satan carrying the clipboards are frequently:
- Young enough to be our children
- Haven't been in the postal service long enough to know much
- Blank slates, making it possible for Postal Managers to mold them in their own grotesquely misshapen images
Perhaps the Postal brain-trust believes the policy of using City Carrier Assistants (CCAs) as delivery supervisors is in its best interests. After all, these neophytes do not have the experience to question the validity of the numbers being forced down the throats of letter carriers, via the feeding tube of the dreaded clipboard. The newbie number pushers will commit no thought crimes, they will simply berate and bully the impossible expectations created by these fake statistics.
Therefore, because the preschoolers are now running the daycare center and have their shackled teachers learning a distorted version of arithmetic, in which one plus one equals whatever they say it does, I am now going to rewrite the time-honored adage. Yes, our jobs require that we treat with the devil every day, but I say Better the Devil who knows then the devil who doesn't.
I said that supervisors are a necessary evil, but if we have to have them, I'll pick one that has given his or her pound of flesh as a Regular Letter Carrier. Postal Service Management, on the other hand, seems to prefer the empty vessel of a City Carrier Assistant. After all, these fawning sycophants can be filled with whatever befouled contents suit the agenda at the moment, the flavor of the month. Which model is right?
The Ancient Origins of the 204b
Public Law 68, Postal Field Service
Compensation Act of 1955
Section 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
As the Needs of the Service Require
It looks like the needs of the Service, Ben Franklin's tried and true, battle-tested Postal Service, have come to the point where they are taking kids barely out of diapers and using them to command grizzled veterans who have done hard time on the front lines.
I mean no disparagement against City Carrier Assistants. I have trained a few dozen by now, and take fatherly pride when they turn out to be real assets for the Postal Service. A few of them have gone on to be 204Bs or higher, and of this group there are some that have thrived in a management role.
Many CCAs bring a fresh infusion of oxygen into tired blood. Some have skills and assets, untainted by postal influence, that they bring from elsewhere. For example, I had one trainee who previously worked for a prominent software company. When the firm shut down its local office he did not want to transfer, so he picked up a job as a CCA. I can't really say I trained him, because he caught on to everything so fast by day three he was smoking me. Let's just say I half-ass babysat him for three days until he could be officially turned loose.
Not surprisingly, this CCA gradually moved into a permanent role as 204B, going from Sunday Amazon lead to full-time delivery supervision. I imagine anytime now he will be promoted to a real EAS position, for which I don't begrudge him. He's one of the few aspiring to the job who has real brains to figure out how to get things done, and isn't that what we need at the top?
I have trained one or two other CCAs who have made the change to 204b without fostering resentment, because their brainpower and work ethic measured up to what a leadership role requires. But for every one of these diamonds in the rough there are several more dull pebbles who think they should be handed a place in the supervisor's chair just because, in whatever narcissistic fantasy land they inhabit, their artificially inflated egos tell them they are worthy. We wants the Precious, as Smeagol said, best reflects their attitude.
One CCA trainee told me on day one he wanted to be at the top. Ambition can be healthy, I suppose, but if this guy was going to be at the top of anything, his regal title would be King of Misdelivery. He was the absolute worst I have ever seen, making a complete mess by throwing insufficient address letters into random mailboxes. And yet, he wanted to be a Customer Service Supervisor.
Another strutting barnyard rooster CCA was telling everyone in the office who would listen he was going to work in human resources. This was after about three weeks on the job. In his youthful naivté maybe he didn't realize that every supervisor with more than a week in the war zone of delivery supervision is queued up to get a cushy cubicle jockey job like that. Meanwhile, this would-be leapfrog was aggravating slowness on two legs, and he called in sick much more than normal for a CCA. You gotta pay your dues Junior, I cautioned. Eventually, I think reality caught up and now, instead of a human resources paper pusher, he is just a surly, slothful regular carrier with a really bad attendance problem.
You Gotta Pay Your Dues Junior
Just because you're something other than a foul-tempered slug who has sick call on speed dial, that doesn't mean you are either ready or willing to sell your soul to the Postal Devil you know, or don't know. All the same, should you as a Regular City Carrier, towel dried behind the ears from a score of years or more of experience, be given 204b preference over the CCA, still dripping in back of those auditory flaps after a soggy trip out of the placenta? Fair or not, who is a more suitable candidate? Does it really matter what we think?
Experts in the field are inclined to think you, old battle-scarred veteran, are better than the greenhorn fresh out of CCA bootcamp. A 1992 study by Alfred Kadushin identified the three main functions of supervision as educational, supportive, and administrative. I will grant you that in the third function, any trained monkey can be taught to run the administrative DOIS and TACs reports the 204b job requires, but as far as educational and supportive are concerned, I will put my bets on the racehorse who has toured the track a few times, and knows how to get inside the rails for the shortest distance to the finish line, albeit sometimes fouling, like Maximum Security.
How can you educate other people, when you are barely out of the CCA educational process yourself, and have not completely integrated that knowledge through real-world experience? How can you support other employees—meaning organize resources necessary for them to do their jobs successfully, when you have no contacts upstairs who can get you things, and maybe can't yet locate the fax machine and supply room?
There are a multitude of things Regulars instinctively understand, that CCAs might not. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, they know where the routes are and how to split them up. Why would you give John on route 24 an hour on route 17, when route 17 is all the way across the Zip Code? You've just added 15 minutes of travel time, when you could have given him an hour on route 1, right next to him, for no extra driving.
Heavy is the hand that carries that clipboard, indeed, but when freshly hatched CCA is making his appointed rounds of the workroom floor, it grows as a heavy as a fifty-pound dumbbell in Jupiter gravity when he doesn't know the overtime rules and even who the overtime desired, work assignment, and eight-hour carriers are. Soon he has alienated the eight hour people by making them work late, he has worried the work assignment T-6 by taking time off of his string and giving it to the OT-allergic eight-hour guy, who is breaking out in hives, and he has outraged the ODL by not giving them any overtime at all. Poor Junior is not exactly off to a good start, is he? Not only does he have grievances galore piling up on his desk, which he has no idea how to deal with, but the people he is supposed to be commanding are all snickering behind his back for being a numbskull.
Whew! But those belligerent, whiny carriers have finally been chased out of the office, so the rest of the day gets easy from here, right? All Junior has to do is mop up those morning reports, lean back in that rickety, uncushioned postal chair, made bearable only by the steadily increasing padding on his immobile ass, then answer customer complaints from the phone and window. Piece of cake!
But wait, Junior doesn't know the rules about dog holds, so he just released the mail for a house with a man-eating Doberman without getting Animal Control on the scene or going out to take a look himself. He doesn't know the rules about mailboxes either, so he allowed Mrs. Smith to move her mail receptacle behind the bristling gauntlet of rose bushes in her back yard. Meanwhile, he told another carrier it is okay to deliver mail to a shoebox a customer nailed to the garden shed he rents out to a roomer.
Another essential function of the Postal Delivery Supervisor I almost neglected, but was reminded of by a Facebook comment, is called running interference. This job function consists not only of shielding employees from counter-productive micromanagement from above, but also shielding oneself from intimidation and unnecessary meddling, in order to get the job done.
I knew a regular carrier 204b with a few decades delivering the mail, who knew so much they would let her manage the station herself when the big boss was away on one of his junkets. This lady was a nail-biting nervous wreck, with an extremely volatile personality. Any attempt to question her decisions or criticize her carriers based strictly on computer screen numbers would result in a Krakatoa-like volcanic explosion on her part. The big boys shining seats with their asses upstairs said This girl's crazy, and left her alone.
How can the CCA fresh out of preschool, still with the stink of Johnson's baby powder on him, hope to garner the same respect from those galoots in suits? Junior is so scared he asks permission to go to the bathroom, and the senior supervisor has to wipe his nose for him. More than likely he will be the yipping lapdog of the Postal Power brokers, eagerly responding to every nonsensical task they throw his way. This will further erode his credibility in the eyes of carriers and clerks, making his job as zookeeper over the hostile animals nearly impossible.
But Postal Management's assumption is that regular carriers don't really have any special qualities, or skills that differentiate them from their CCA counterparts still holding on to the sides of the cradle for balance. The inconvenient truth, however, is that if you have been in this organization a few years, you have accumulated a great deal of knowledge and wisdom, possibly without knowing it.
A recent case in point: Pressed for time to get a route adjustment implemented, my station manager refused to let me start early to install case labels. Her response to my request was "That's so simple anyone can do it." Accordingly, she assigned a CCA to the job, a young lady whose virgin eyeballs had never seen a set of naked case labels. Not putting any blame on this out of her element CCA, she screwed it up, and a couple regulars had to fix the botched job upon punching in.
Conspiracy or Ugly Reality?
You will probably never find a paper trail, a tell-tale smoking gun proving that giving preference to CCAs in 204b positions is the Postal Service's official policy. I have searched fruitlessly for such online, and have concluded there were no secret meetings in hidden, dimly-lit boardrooms at 1 L'Enfant plaza. There is no official scheme by Postal Illuminati to create mindless minions that will enforce their dictates without question, instead of rolling their eyes to the numbers a computer vomits and saying wait a minute, I know that route, that's frickin' impossible!
Having sat in that hot seat and suffered though 6 AM to 9 PM days at very little extra pay, I think the real reason the Postal Service is snatching up willing CCAs to plug into empty supervisor slots is simple. Nobody else wants to do it. Regular City Carriers have been around long enough to have seen the glazed-over, shell-shocked eyes of supervisors given ridiculous drop-dead deadlines of what time Cinderella has to be back from the ball, begging and pleading for people to pole vault through impossibly high hoops. These veterans, who have witnessed 204bs get crucified for the sins of promoted supervisors, station managers and postmasters think, ut-huh, that shit ain't for me.
On the other hand, ambitious young City Carrier Assistants approached about 204B think - Yeah, that sounds chill. I've always wanted to be the boss. Now I can kick back a little and (in some stations), get extra hours. In many locales weather also plays a role. Young'uns who haven't yet grown an igloo around their delicate hides jump at the chance to get out of the rain and snow.
What the fledgling CCA does not understand is that the prospect of pushing people around is a light that lures bugs out of every seedy corner of the woodwork. This means they will be relentlessly bullied and beaten up by insectile psychopaths to make the kabbalistic numbers on the computer screen, or else Think about your career choices! Unless, of course, they become psychos themselves and learn to bite back.
Furthermore, the CCA has no idea the 204b job is more tedious than glamorous, consisting mostly of fixing other people's mistakes into the wee, witching hours of the night - What happened to the scan on this package? This Express Mail was not delivered. A collection box was missed and I am getting hostile phone calls about it every five minutes. There are no clock rings for this carrier's time on that route. In other words, the fresh off the assembly line CCA cannot fathom that the majority of his or her time as a 204b will be spent dealing with other people's eff-ups. No wizened, grizzled, been around the block a few times Regular Carrier wants to do that.
Lose the Peach Fuzz First
We all started out young and naive in this job, so put in order to avoid the word stupid. I mean no disrespect to our brother and sister CCAs, but in my opinion, which means nothing, they need a little time to grow up, to mature, to ripen on the vine, to lose the peach fuzz and sprout some real stubble before moving up.
Unfortunately, patiently waiting for the toddlers to stop crawling and take their first real steps creates supervising staffing issues. Let's face it: Regular Carriers are not willing to take the blood oath that gets you ring around the collar of the soul that no Shout, Whisk, or even Oxiclean will scrub or soak out. Even so, Regulars also reserve the right to be resentful about getting bossed around by diaper-clad DOIS disciples. Facebook groups are rife with complaints on this subject, the same complaints repeated ad nauseum, with no satisfaction obtained despite the deafening volume of the whining. Is this fair? Is this legal? Is this a grievance?
Bad news folks. The Postal Service has been doing the 204B thing since 1955, and my bet is they are going to continue doing it until the last light is turned off and the last door is closed in the last Post Office. So either step up and do it yourself, Mr. or Mrs. Indignant Regular, or let the squawking of these bullying brats bounce off you as you go about your business like you have always done: the right way, the regular way.
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© 2019 Mel Carriere