Rural Carrier Associate (RCA) vs. City Carrier Assistant (CCA) - Which Postal Poison Pill Should You Swallow?
Name Your Poison
The expression "poison pill" is a term that has had troubling, ominous overtones throughout the course of history. Although the words "name your poison" can have pleasant implications when issuing forth from the mouth of the bartender preparing umbrella festooned cocktails on the deck of a cruise ship, in other venues the same combination of verbiage can be downright despairing, as observed in the case of the great Greek philosopher Socrates, who was given the choice of being exiled from Athens forever or drinking a not so refreshing cup of hemlock. The hemolock turned out to literally be deadly poison, unlike the tasty Pina Colada that the barkeep has just handed you on your Caribbean vacation.
Therefore, unless of course you are a convicted prisoner languishing on death row, or a spy on a secret mission who has been given a cyanide capsule to carry under your tongue in the event of torture, most of the time the term "poison pill" is not to be interpreted literally. In the unique English dialect known as Postalspeak, for instance, when some deceptively cheerful human resources minion of the slave driving, whip cracking tyrants upstairs asks you to "name your poison," he or she might just want to know which of the two no rest for the weary, no light at the end of the tunnel, no hope for Sundays off, entry level letter carrier jobs you might be interested in applying for; Rural Carrier Associate (RCA), or City Carrier Assistant (CCA).
Being a postal city carrier myself, in the past I have written extensively on the subject of CCAs, but because a friend of mine recently applied for an RCA position and was full of questions about it, I thought I would do some research and compose a few words of compare and contrast between the two postal poison pills. In conducting this side by side toxicity analysis I am not going to elaborate much on the nature of the poison itself. If you wish to discover the grim reality of the postal hell you are going to immerse yourself into simply consult my CCA writings and you can rest assured that there is not much difference in the degree or nature of the abuse you will take as an RCA or a CCA. The purpose of this particular article, however, is to describe the areas in which the two jobs differ so that you, Mr. or Ms. potential postal applicant, can make a more informed decision about which particular flavor of postal poison suits your discerning palate.
Defining Terms - Rural vs. City Carrier
A Mailman is a Mailman, right? It's all one big happy Postal Service, so what's the deal with this confusing Rural Carrier vs. City Carrier hair splitting? RCAs and CCAs drive the same trucks, use the same scanners, stuff the same letters into mailboxes that all look alike, and many times work out of the same building, even gathering together in the swing room on occasions for pot lucks and socializing off the clock like any big happy family would. If it's all the same job, with the golden eggs coming out of the same goose, then how can the arbitrary application of a particular acronym be enough to effect your decision about swallowing Toxic tablet A or Toxic Tablet B?
As you will discover if you choose to hitch a ride on this enormous Postal Pig, the Postal Service is separated into multiple modules of bureaucracy, each of which fiercely endeavors to aggrandize itself at the expense of the others, even though they appear to be doing the exact same thing. One of these distinct entities is the Rural Carrier craft, which consists of those employees designated to deliver mail in rural and suburban areas. The distinction between city and rural is a fuzzy one at best, however, and there is a great deal of overlap, with many rural carriers delivering in places that have a decidedly urban feel, while city carriers such as myself often work in remote locales where the smell of horse manure baking in the sun is an everyday reality.
The Rural Carrier craft came into being when Rural Free Delivery (RFD) was enacted in 1896 under President Grover Cleveland, 33 years after free city delivery began. In 1962 Rural Carriers selected the National Rural Letter Carriers Association (NRLCA) as their agent. The NRLCA and its counterpart in the City Carrier craft, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), while both being composed of mail delivery employees, are completely different organizations that bargain separately in contract negotiations that define wages and working conditions. Strict boundary lines have been drawn between Rural Carrier and City Carrier territories, but these boundaries are sometimes blurry and regularly ignored by the Postal Service. Because rural delivery costs $7.83 per delivery less than its City counterpart, in recent history the USPS has shown a preference toward it in new suburban construction. Despite their separate status and these sometimes conflicting interests, there are offices where Rural and City Carriers work side by side, but even in these cases neither encroaches on the others' territory. For this reason, in an emergency a vacant Rural route could possibly be delivered by a supervisor, but never by a City Carrier. Of course I should never say never, except to say that there was never a contract that Postal management didn't do its best to violate.
Another significant difference between the two is in the range of duties. On the NRLCA website, the Rural Carrier is described as a "...Post Office on Wheels. They perform all the services performed over the counter at a post office. They sell stamps, money orders, and priority flat rate boxes; accept express and priority mail; offer signature and delivery confirmation; and collect mail and parcels." Other than collecting mail and parcels, this rolling retail operation does not exist on the city carrier side. Nonetheless, city carriers are often approached by customers who insist on buying a stamp from them, probably because at some time, somewhere, a rural carrier has done them the favor.
Love is in the Air? - What About Working Conditions?
In 1977 disco singer Paul Young put out a song called "Love is in the Air," which had a groovy beat and uplifting, positive lyrics. Although the expansive workroom floors of some Post Offices could certainly serve as discos or roller rinks with the simple installation of a strobe light, whether you are an RCA or a CCA you are not going to pick this one as your postal theme song, simply because you will not feel the love pulsing through your veins with the beat. In either position your supervisor is going to work you to the limits of your endurance, make you jump through impossible hoops, then scold you at the end of the day like a pup that has peed on the rug because you haven't measured up.
Never think for a moment that your RCA or CCA counterparts at the other end of the building are getting treated any better, because they are not. Somebody poisoned the Postal well, and you're both drinking the same tainted water out of it. All the same, there are significant differences in the overall ambiance of the job that could most certainly affect your decision about whose ladle you use to scoop the water out of the bucket.
Some of these differences are cosmetic, others can significantly affect your quality of life within the stark gray walls of the Postal penitentiary. On the less serious side of things, as an RCA you are not required to wear a uniform, and as long as your apparel falls within the very loose definition of "presenting a positive image," you can probably come into work wearing tennis shoes and sweat pants and get away with it nine times out of ten. CCAs, on the other hand, are expected to adhere to certain grooming standards, and after passing probation are given approximately 400 dollars a year as a uniform allowance in order to conform to these standards. Many RCAs understandably feel better about themselves in a Postal uniform, and while these can be expensive to purchase out of pocket, if your office also houses City Carriers there are always a few of these folks who will be willing to bequeath you their torn, faded and stained hand me downs.
A slightly more serious difference is the matter of route bidding. As an RCA you will be assigned to relieve a regular rural carrier once a week on that route's day off if it is a 'K' route, or once every two weeks if it is designated as a 'J' route. Other than that, although you can also bid on routes that are posted for vacation, your schedule will be completely arbitrary, unpredictable, and subject to the whim and discretion of the Postal Service. As a CCA you don't have any permanent assignment any day of the week, but you do have the right to opt on routes that are posted for vacation or for other long term absences of regular carriers.
One distinct advantage of being an RCA over a CCA, for some, is that you won't be doing any walking whatsoever. Rural routes service curbside deliveries, mounted deliveries on country roads; and increasingly, in new residential communities, cluster boxes that are now mandated there. Unlike the poor CCA, who has has to toil through the drudgery of hundreds of Park and Loop deliveries on foot, your tender skull will go home less baked by the harsh sun than his will, and your shoulders, knees, and ankles will not be as severely damaged by the constant stumbles, slips, trips and banging of the head against low hanging tree limbs that take a physical toll through the years on the City Carrier.
The big negative that might make the RCA poison pill harder to force down is that you may be required to provide your own vehicle. The NRLCA website states that 51,000 Rural routes use their own cars and trucks, being paid a "mechanical allowance" to do so. Chances are if you work in a large metropolitan area you won't be required to do this, but if you are stationed out in the sticks it's probably a gimme. I once tagged along with a Rural carrier who drove 100 miles a day on her route, in her own vehicle. She was a delightful person, full of information about the farms and ranches, but I confess I nearly fell asleep over the mind numbing distances that passed between mailboxes.
Because Benjamin Franklin was our first Postmaster General, some folks think that the eagle on the side of the postal vehicle is actually a Turkey, the feathered critter Ben proposed for the national bird, and I can see how it might be confused for one. So let's talk turkey and get down to brass tacks while we're at it. You're thinking about going into this job to make money, after all, so let's discuss the differences between the RCA and CCA jobs that will effect your earning potential; not just right now but for many years down the road.
Although some sites you stumble across on search engines will try to entice you by announcing wages of $20 dollars an hour for RCAs, this only applies to those who were hired before August, 2012. The actual starting wage for RCA as of November 15, 2014 is $16.65. CCAs, on the other hand, start at either $15.30 or $15.63 whether hired as Grade 1 or Grade 2, a cryptic designation that I couldn't find an easily understandable explanation for.
It would appear, therefore, that the RCA is really raking it in compared to the CCAs loading up on the other side of the dock, but this is not actually the case. Generally speaking, CCAs make a lot more money than their RCA counterparts, simply because they work a lot more hours.
In its current cost cutting mode, the Postal Service is on a mission to try to avoid paying overtime to costly regular city carriers, who earn about $40 an hour after eight hours in a day or over 40 in a week. To put a band-aid on its bleeding bottom line, the Post Office has hired hordes of CCAs to pick up the slack on vacant and overburdened routes; routes that in the glorious pre-CCA days would have been split for overtime among regular carriers. Although they are not guaranteed a set minimum of hours as RCAs are, I have heard of City Carrier Assistants working as many as 39 days in a row, the result being that these exhausted newbies probably get more hours than they want, particularly because most Postal districts are now delivering Amazon parcels on Sundays as well.
RCAs are also called in to deliver Amazon parcels on Sundays, and will probably will work Mondays too when it's usually all hands on deck; but because they are only guaranteed one day per week for 'K' routes and one day every other week for 'J' routes, hours for RCAs are a lot more scarce than for those exhausted CCAs falling asleep in their postal vehicles at stop lights. Most of the RCAs I have spoken to only work between 15-20 hours a week on average, so if you do decide to swallow this particular postal poison pill, it is best to look at it as a pretty good part time job. The only problem is that it's an unpredictable part time job. You could potentially be called in any day of the week, and it doesn't bode well for your postal career if you don't answer the phone.
While on the subject of postal careers, just what are the respective long term prospects for RCAs and CCAs? I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but if you choose RCA, don't hold your breath waiting for a stable, full time job. Promotion to full fledged Rural Carrier takes a long time, seven years being the minimum number I keep hearing. I suppose this time period varies on where you work and how much turnover there is in your office, but regular rural carriers don't give up their routes very often. I've crossed paths with many a crusty, crotchety rural carrier who should have retired decades ago but was hanging on for dear life. In other words, it can take years for a route to open up and for you to move into a steady gig.
Promotion is typically quicker for CCAs. Much to my surprise, mere months after the craft was created in 2013 CCAs were already getting promoted to regular. The promotion process has since slowed down a bit but the NALC; which I encourage you to join immediately if you choose to accept a CCA position, is diligent about making management comply with the promotion stipulations of the contract which they affixed their signature to. So if you really want a chance at making a career out of this job, CCA is the way to go.
I hope I have given you enough information to help you prepare the ingredients for your toxic postal cocktail. Whether the drops you stir into your fatal postal elixir come from the skull and crossbones bottle labeled RCA or CCA is all a matter of personal preference. Either way you are in for a long, grueling, convulsive ride ahead, so buckle down and don't say I didn't warn ya'! Good luck on your upcoming Postal thrill ride, and if you have any questions please feel free to comment down below.