Rural Carrier Associate (RCA) vs. City Carrier Assistant (CCA) - Which Postal Poison Pill Should You Swallow?

Mr. Zip takes his postal poison in easy to swallow caplets, for quick absorption.
Mr. Zip takes his postal poison in easy to swallow caplets, for quick absorption. | Source

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.

Will you remain as stoic and philosophical as Socrates was when drinking down your cup of Postal Poison?
Will you remain as stoic and philosophical as Socrates was when drinking down your cup of Postal Poison? | Source

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.

Technology has changed a little, but the mail delivery principle is still basically the same.
Technology has changed a little, but the mail delivery principle is still basically the same. | Source

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.

Scenes such as this are not necessarily as typical of a rural carrier's life as they used to be.
Scenes such as this are not necessarily as typical of a rural carrier's life as they used to be. | Source

Talking Turkey

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.

Ferocious attack turkeys are just one of the many hazards you will face on this job, whether you sign up for RCA or CCA.
Ferocious attack turkeys are just one of the many hazards you will face on this job, whether you sign up for RCA or CCA. | Source

Bottoms Up!

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.


Pick Your Poison!

Based on this, which Postal Poison Pill are you likely to take?

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How the City Side Lives

A Sneak Peek at Rural Carrier Life

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Comments 36 comments

justthemessenger profile image

justthemessenger 16 months ago from The Great Midwest

This article does a good example of making a comparison. I peeked into the rual carrier option in 2007. As you mentioned they made the request that I use my own little car and weigh it down with a ton of mail every day. I figured that it was best to stay where I was which did have the advantage of keeping my car off the


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 16 months ago from San Diego California Author

Mail delivery is hell on postal vehicles justthemessenger. I think you made a good choice, for many reasons. Thanks for reading!

Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 16 months ago from Rural Arizona

Mel - As usual you present great information that makes me feel good about getting old and not needing to apply for a job with the postal service.

I had some hard jobs during my life, but they all sound better than what you describe in your hubs. My hat is off to those who deliver our mail even though it is mostly bills and junk mail.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 16 months ago from San Diego California Author

And Amazon, don't forget Amazon. They practically own us now, and we dance to their tune. Thanks for reading Poolman.

Dana Tate profile image

Dana Tate 16 months ago from LOS ANGELES

I think I had told you this in one of your other hubs. One day I was on the bus and I happen to over-hear a disgruntled postal worker telling another passenger that the postal service was taking away overtime and trying to layoff the "seasoned and highly paid" postal workers and hiring new workers for $15-16 per hr. The reason this conversation piqued my interest was because I had a desire to work for the postal office at one time but I was discouraged when I heard they laid off a lot.

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 16 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Marvelous Machiavellian writing you servant to the king you. Aren't there more hot chicks that just dig a man in a uniform on the rural routes? I suspect that us folks who do not live in city limits but who live in a place that looks like a city instead of a farm are really bastard step children of this unholy marriage between rural and city. Now I know why I saw a city carrier slamming on his breaks at an imaginary line in the street.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 16 months ago from San Diego California Author

They try to lay off the regular carriers on the bottom of the list Eric, but the Union always gets them their jobs back. That's the beauty of having a Union. If you ever want to give it a shot let me know.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 16 months ago from San Diego California Author

Machiavelli aint got nothing on me Dana. I don't think the man in the uniform fetish applies to us mailmen, because we are usually too dirty to be attractive. The guy you saw slam on the brakes probably missed a package or mailbox. Happens to me all the time. Heck, it might have been me. We can drive through rural territory, we just cant get out of the vehicle. Thanks for reading!

Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 16 months ago from Oklahoma

I prefer the idea of the rural route, but having to put miles on your own car and possibly not being compensated as well, would mean I would probably go the city route.

It all sounds like paradise compared to door to door deliveries in a semi with a 53' trailer, which I had the pleasure of doing for a year:-)

I enjoy learning about the intricacies of the USPS versus the private sector. I used to dropoff pallets of mail at the OKC distribution facility. The way they did things compared to how we did, it was like we were from different planets.

Thought the USPS methods were more efficient btw, but everything is so rigid! Dropped off mail a few times at small town USPS facilities, too. They were much more laid back.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 16 months ago from San Diego California Author

The whole rural thing is much more laid back, Larry, which I could have gotten into but I was already running long. Rural carriers have more leeway about what time they come in, and they don't get rushed out the door because they don't punch a clock. They get paid the same regardless, and they can go home early when they are done. But because this hub was about RCAs, who do get rushed, I thought that info was superfluous. Then again Socrates was superfluous, but if I can't have some fun with these stale employment articles I refuse to do it. Thanks for reading!

Gary Malmberg profile image

Gary Malmberg 16 months ago from Concon, Chile

After so many years in another uniform, I chose RCA. And your above response sealed the deal. Give me laid back. and/or work like crazy so I can go home early and play with my Tinker Toys. Anyway, I enjoyed the read, Mel. Two thumbs yup.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 16 months ago from San Diego California Author

Thank you Gary, I guess you can work as a virtual RCA from down there in Chile. Sounds like you have the life. Thanks for reading!

AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 16 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

This is another interesting and very informative hub, Mel. As I think I've said before, I'm getting a great education about the U.S. postal service by reading your articles!

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 16 months ago from San Diego California Author

Probably information you could have lived without Linda, but I am very grateful as usual for your visit.

aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 16 months ago from Stillwater, OK

I lived in the country growing up in Maine so my rural carrier had been the father of the present rural carrier. The jobs in that area seem to run through families.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 16 months ago from San Diego California Author

Postal families are common everywhere Deb, even on the city side. Even though nepotism is nominally prohibited, it is easy to sneak your relatives and even friends through with a couple phone calls, even if they have marginal test scores. Thanks for reading!

Ashley Graham 15 months ago

I have been looking into RAC versus CCA and this was extremely helpful in letting me know which position would be better for me to go with, thank you!

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 15 months ago from San Diego California Author

You are welcome Ashley. People don't know what they are getting into, which is why I wrote it. Thanks for reading!

Fed up clerk 15 months ago

Just last Friday my supervisor had a PSE doing city carrier work (supervisor got busted by the union rep); and he thinks he can have the PSE do rural carrier work too "in an emergency".

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 15 months ago from San Diego California Author

Well fed up clerk we all know postal supervisors will violate the contract at every opportunity they get, and your Union rep is there to get you paid when that happens. Didn't the clerks union just win a massive 56 million dollar payout? Thanks for reading!

Tara O'Sullivan 5 months ago

Oh man....This had me rolling on the floor, laughing.

Which is about as much physical activity as I can stand for one week. *pats my RCA badge*

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 5 months ago from San Diego California Author

Oh come on Tara, I know you guys get a lot of exercise sticking your arms out the window. You RCAs have right forearms bigger than Popeye's.

Thank you for your wonderful comment.

joe the new postman 5 months ago

Is it a guarantee that you have to use your own car? I am applying for a RRA in a couple of days and don't have a reliable car. I thought everyone at the post office gets one of those "babemobiles" postal carts?

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 5 months ago from San Diego California Author

Hey Joe the new postman. I'm not sure which babemobile you are talking about. I think you mean birth-control mobile. City Carriers use postal vehicles, but rurals sometimes have to use their own. Many offices do provide vehicles for rural routes, but it depends on the area. You need to check with your local postmaster. Thanks for reading, good luck.

Matchew024 4 months ago

Hey Mel! First time reader here. Wanted to say thanks for the info. I've been an RCA since September. I've been battling with the change to CCA (hence why I'm reading this article)

Its currently taking about 6 years to make regular but I heard there was a freeze there for a while. The main reason why I was considering changing is because I heard CCA'S make regular much faster. Up to 6 months I heard! It's so tough making a decision because the RCA life is is a breeze (except the unwelcome 6 am call in to come to work!)

I wanted to step in on the Joe question. It all depends on the route they make as your primary route. It could be a POV route, otherwise you canget lucky like me and get a route that has an LLV.

Each route has an evaluated time. If you finish under yhe evaluation you still get the pay! So on paper it says I finish at 5, but I really finished at 3:30 I still get that time. It's beautiful!

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 4 months ago from San Diego California Author

That is a big advantage Matchew. In some stations RCAs can work a lot of hours, but in others the pickings are slim. Good luck on your decision, thanks for reading.

Mr. Think Twice 3 months ago

Anonymous said...

Mister Think Twice,

The real problem with NEW hire RCA's is lack of training and the new hire WORKS the Hardest days of the week.

You are a fill in for the Full Timer. So during a 45hr work week. The part timer on his one day of work, supposed to work 8hrs but ends up working 11hrs and the full timers on his 5 days of work works 34hrs. That comes to less than 7hrs a day.

Nice to be fulltime. Work 34hrs and get paid for 40. And with experience and volume of mail you will be able to do your route under 34hrs and you still get paid for 40.

All the stress is put on the new hires. You work one day a week. On call rest of week. And after 5-7 yrs you might become full time. Now that's a recipe for high turnover.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 3 months ago from San Diego California Author

Who can live on one day a week Think Twice? Some RCAs get good hours but it's rare. You should have thought twice and gone CCA. Thanks for reading.

Hanna Strauss profile image

Hanna Strauss 7 weeks ago

Hey Mel: I just became unemployed after serving as a temporary seasonal Park Guide for the National Park Service. Just moved to Tucson and found the open vacancy listing for an RCA. I spent hundreds of hours standing and walking for over three months working 9 hours per day interfacing with thousands of all types of people from all over the world visiting the park. Between directing traffic and informing irate drivers of park rules and dealing with obstreperous visitors (some days were absolutely horrific) this position sounds like a reprieve: more time working alone. A chance to peruse the desert wildlife whilst delivering mail. Between you me and the gila monsters, I will do just fine on this job. I have loads of customer service experience and endurance. I applied and they are skipping the exam part because I all ready have the experience as a veteran Federal civil servant. They are conducting my background check right now. Ofcourse, I wish there more hours, but for now, it will do nicely until something else comes along. This would be more of a tonic rather than a poison pill. There are worse things I could be doing...

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 7 weeks ago from San Diego California Author

Let me know if you still feel that way a few weeks after you start, Hanna. I'm a birdwatcher, but I don't have much time while delivering the mail to look up in the skies. I have to look with my ears. I can hear the Cooper's Hawk who dines on captured birds on the same light pole on my route several times a week. I can hear the song of the White-crowned Sparrow when they arrive, marking the beginning of fall. That is the good part of this job, but not a lot of time for contemplation. Postal supervisors push us relentlessly these days.

At any rate, I wish you the best of luck, and I hope your prognosis turns out correct.

Hanna Strauss profile image

Hanna Strauss 7 weeks ago

Who is looking up at the sky? I have to look on the road ahead of me for reptiles; I am a "herper" not a birder so this works out perfectly.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 7 weeks ago from San Diego California Author

A true naturalist embraces all creatures, though might show a bias toward a particular group. I look at lizards, plants, birds, and I am fascinated by the tiny skipper butterflies, that never get any attention. That is the joy of being a mailman. One doesn't have to be in a National Park to see wildlife. There is wildlife everywhere, we just have to notice it.

Hanna Strauss profile image

Hanna Strauss 6 weeks ago

Well it ended up that this position being offered is not a true associate rural carrier position. It is a new temporary position to assist with delivering packages by 'filling in' on Sundays and holidays. I was referred for the position for hire but decided to decline it after trying to provide my background check history information 3X and having the company's website logoff on me. They won't give me enough time to fill in all my info, so to work one day a week with no future prospects with USPS doesn't make the hassle worth it. Fortunately, I have other prospects…BTW, I do also enjoy viewing ll types of wildlife.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 6 weeks ago from San Diego California Author

Sorry it didn't work out for you Hanna. Thanks a lot for your comment. Why don't you apply for CCA? Lots of hours over there.

michael madden 5 weeks ago

Thanks for the article. I'm an rca of over 5 years and had the choice of rca/CCA. Some friends, what are CCAs, hate their working conditions but stick it out because regular on the CCA side is only a 1 year wait around here. We RCA's, however look at a 5-8 year wait. Rca is much more laid back management wise which is why I never switched.

Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 5 weeks ago from San Diego California Author

Thanks Michael. I think RCAs in my office take a pretty good thumping from management but I guess it depends on your locale. I appreciate you dropping in.

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