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So You Want to Be a Mailman: The CCA Experience

Although many are mystified by his mysterious moniker, Mel Carriere is a San Diego mailman who writes about the mail, among other things.

The 4 Main Drawbacks of Being a City Carrier Assistant (CCA)

WARNING: This article is not sugar-coated! The reason why I am being so deliberately careful not to apply the confectioner's touch to this article is that the United States Postal Service has been laying on globs of sugar to the CCA (City Carrier Assistance) experience in an attempt to keep some of them. For this reason, I feel it is my duty to counteract the propaganda so these candidates will know what they're really up against.

For the uninitiated among you, the CCA is a non-career letter carrier that is paid a highly reduced wage. Unlike career postal employees, the CCAs are not guaranteed hours and are often instructed to stay home when the delivery units at which they are employed have a full complement of letter carriers. Also in contrast to career letter carriers, a CCA may be removed at any time during the employment period for "just cause," a term that basically means any whimsical, arbitrary reason that strikes a postal manager's fancy, such as not laughing at one of his jokes or refusing to come to work with a broken leg. Furthermore, there seem to be no safeguards in place to guarantee an equitable allocation of hours for CCAs. If your manager likes you, you'll get called in, but if he doesn't, prepare yourself for another long, boring day of watching soap operas after sleeping all night by the phone in your postal uniform.

Not surprisingly, the CCA workforce has been dwindling away like a submerged cow carcass being torn to pieces by piranhas, and I imagine that record cold temperatures across the country have not helped matters. Tolerance for miserable postal working conditions seems to be directly proportional to the amount of money earned, and a regular carrier making $27 per hour at a guaranteed 40 hours per week will naturally tolerate more than a CCA making an unsteady $15. Is it any wonder that the CCAs are abandoning the postal ship in droves?

So you really want to be a mailman? As I made abundantly clear in my opening statement, I am going to give you the reality of what you will be up against in this job, things that the Postal Service will not tell you in training, in which they make the day-to-day drudgery of a City Carrier Assistant seem as glamorous and exciting as the life of a fashion model, minus the self-induced vomiting. But I intend to tell you the full, uncensored truth by exploring four of the biggest negatives you will encounter in your postal life. If there is to be any vomiting it will not be self-induced but will be directly related to the nausea-inducing subjects that I am going to talk about.

Contrary to popular belief, some dogs are postal-approved, mailman-friendly models.

Contrary to popular belief, some dogs are postal-approved, mailman-friendly models.

1. Dogs

When people learn that I am a letter carrier, the first question they always ask is "how do you handle all the dogs?" The public assumes that when someone joins the Postal Service, it is the beginning of a non-stop running battle with the canine set, like Charlton Heston going through a time warp and landing on the Planet of the Apes, except that the dominant species are dogs and letter carriers have been enslaved by them and put in cages. This makes an interesting idea for a Hollywood script, but it is not altogether true.

Indeed, there are dangerous dogs out there, but they are the least of our four dangers. You will walk away unscathed from canine encounters as long as you make a lot of noise when entering yards so as to draw out any stealthy pups lying in ambush, and you use your satchel and spray to ward off attacking mongrels like an exorcist uses his crucifix and holy water to keep the devil at bay. You might even find that a lot of the dogs are friendly and giving them a pleasant pat on the hand or a scratch behind the ears can actually make your day go by more pleasantly (disclaimer: not a postal-approved practice).

So you think you're ready to brave the elements?  Good luck trying to talk your boss out of it.  Here Mailman Bill Margo trudges though deep snow in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

So you think you're ready to brave the elements? Good luck trying to talk your boss out of it. Here Mailman Bill Margo trudges though deep snow in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

2. Weather

What do I know about the weather? I live in Southern California, where if it dips below 50 degrees, we bundle up and chop down our palm trees for firewood. But I do communicate with other letter carriers across the country via social media, and let me tell you, folks—outside of California and Florida, it's damn cold out there. I can't tell you anything about this from personal experience, but good luck trying to deliver the mail when your crisp digits are all bundled up in thick padded gloves and you are slipping and sliding on the snow and ice.

Furthermore, bad weather is not just restricted to the frosty wintertime. Carriers in Indiana give me a disbelieving cyber-stare when I tell them we have not received a single drop of rain in San Diego in the month of July, while over there they consider themselves fortunate if they can get through a single day without a heavens-splitting deluge of Biblical proportions. And when you're not trying to dog-paddle your way through a rainstorm or sled through a raging blizzard, you can look forward to record-breaking heat. When it's 95 degrees with 80 percent humidity on a cool East Texas day, you'll be wondering what kind of insanity was spinning through your brain when you answered that postal add.

Don't try to complain about the weather to your supervisor because they don't care. Yes, maybe right now they're dry and comfortable sitting behind their desk, ordering you out into the cold and rain, but chances are, they paid their dues at some point, and they don't want to hear about your problems. Don't whine about the weather to the other carriers either. They've been dealing with it for years and somehow survived to old age, and there's no reason why a young crybaby like you can't keep your mouth shut and get to work.

3. Darkness

Mailmen are like vampires these days because we absolutely thrive in the darkness. At one point in the not too distant past, we were not such nocturnal creatures, but then the postal brain-trust made the uninspired decision to eliminate a large portion of the clerk workforce. This lack of clerks led to the problem of late mail distribution, which resulted in later start times for carriers. My previous start time of 7:30 has now been moved to 8:30, meaning that I finish an hour later. I have worked so much in the darkness this year that I am beginning to become efficient at it. It used to be that one set of batteries in my headlamp would get me through the winter, but I have already changed the batteries once this year and I think I have to put in a new set this Monday. You can add "Mailman" to your list of frightening things that go bump in the night.

Perhaps I am making light of the situation, but nighttime mail delivery can have serious, lethal consequences. This is the reason I am dedicating this post to Tyson Jerome Burnett, a letter carrier who was shot and killed in Cheverly, Maryland on November 23rd while delivering mail in the darkness. Tyson was a CCA who was delivering on an unfamiliar route. To add insult to this lethal injury, Tyson had previously been a THE making $22 dollars an hour, but at the time of his death had already undergone the forced conversion to CCA at the greatly reduced hourly wage of $16. Tyson's fate is sad proof of the pitifully inadequate compensation given to postal employees who often risk their lives in appalling working conditions.

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Tyson was not the only victim of a lethal night-time encounter that year. On December 20th, a Boston-area letter carrier was shot during a robbery attempt that took place shortly before 7 p.m.—a good two hours after sunset. During the robbery, the letter carrier was also bludgeoned in the forehead with a handgun. Fortunately, this postal worker got away with his life, unlike Tyson who was not so fortunate.

Besides the unsavory criminal element that often uses the night as a concealing blanket for illegal depredations, the darkness is also fraught with other dangers. The foremost of these from the letter carrier's perspective is hazardous footing. Trying to read the mail and negotiate one's way between mailboxes in the darkness is a dangerous enough proposition, but when you add slick wintertime footing to the equation, it creates a synergistic effect whose hazardous probabilities are way beyond the scope of my limited mathematical skills.

The mercy rule in certain amateur sports definitely does not apply to mail delivery.

The mercy rule in certain amateur sports definitely does not apply to mail delivery.

4. There is no "Mercy Rule" in Mail Delivery

As a CCA your supervisors are not only going to work you to the limits of your human endurance, but once they finally do push you to the point of physical breakdown they are likely to fire you when you skip work and go to the doctor. Although the NALC (National Association of Letter Carriers) will fight to get your job back, even if you are reinstated management can use the somewhat shady doctrine of "Just Cause" to dismiss you for any reason, which they may be more inclined to do now that you have landed on their bad side for the crime of demonstrating your human frailties.

As a case in point, about a month ago I was sent to help a CCA who was working late on the street. When we both returned to the office a little while later I noticed that she was barely hobbling along, and so I said to her "What's wrong? You're walking just like me." I have an arthritic ankle that in certain conditions acts up and causes me to walk with a limp.

In response she staggered over to where I was standing and lowered her sock. To my horror and amazement she then showed me a spot where a bone was separating from the rest of her foot. The pressure of the protruding bone was beginning to stretch the skin to its limits, and although I'm no medical doctor, even with my limited layman's knowledge I knew that this could not be good.

All the same this young lady was still forcing her way along for fear of losing her job by failing to show up to work. At that point she had worked ten days straight, and because CCAs now deliver packages on Sundays for Amazon as well there was really no complete day of rest for her in site. But because her husband is unemployed and she needs to support her small family she continues to limp her way along, struggling her way through postal hell with the constant terror of breaking down completely and finding herself minus a job.