The Insanity of the United States Postal Service

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June 15th, 2015 at 6:06:21 PM permalink
Face
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I just noticed there's no "Work and/or Careers" section. Anyways... I figured I'd say a few words about my newest job.



I've been working here for about a month now, and I thought this would make a good thread. Mail is one of those things that just "is". It doesn't really convey excitement or wonder. I mean, it's been a mainstay in your life no matter how old you are, it's always "junk mail" or bills or other uninteresting garbage... it's just one of those things. Being on the inside... I can't help but wonder how any part of it works. The fact that you can mail out a bill and not think twice about it reaching its destination is a mindf$%^ of the highest order. You really have no idea the level of chaos that the whole operation is. So why not come along for a look on the inside?

I guess I'll start with me. I am a Rural Carrier Associate (RCA), On Street Motorized. Yes, every single thing in the USPS is acronyms. Positions, duties, forms... almost no real words are used. Everyone speaks in spurts of letters and numbers, and you just gotta figure it out. To the layman, I'm this guy...



I wear street clothes and drive around all day, as opposed to the City Carrier Associate (CCA) who wears the uniform and carries the satchel. CCA sucks balls. Perhaps I'll get into why later.

Getting this job was as odd as the operation. It took nearly 3 months, almost completely online, with only one spot of human interaction, and close to zero input or direction. It began with an online app where you submitted an insane amount of personal details. Then you wait 3 weeks without a word. Then you get called for testing, for which I had to drive some 2 hours to MCC in Rochester to take. All that drive... and the GD test was also done online. The test was little more than error recognition and memorization. They'd give a list of a hundred addresses in one column, and then the address of the virtual letter right next to it. You had to determine if it was right, if the address was wrong, if the zip was wrong, or if both were wrong. It was timed, but anyone over 12 would have no problem. The memorization was a little harder. Long lists of addresses were broken up into "routes". Each route had parts of streets, streets which were often contained in other routes. So you had to remember that R1 had Main Street from 100 to 499, and R2 had Main from 500 to 1599. Stuff like that. There were 4 routes, each with three streets containing a set of numbers, and they gave you a list of "mail". From that list, you had to denote what route is went to. Easy enough. The next part they took away route list and gave you more virtual mail. From memory, you had to denote what route it went to. That was a little tougher, and I was on just 2 hours of sleep, but I scored very high regardless. And that was it. Test over.

So you go home and wait another 3 weeks without so much a word. Then I get called for a drug test. Oh, by "called" i mean another e-mail; you don't ever talk to nobody. So I went and pissed and waited another 3 weeks. Then I get called for an interview. Finally, I get to talk to someone. The interview was standard to all jobs, nothing of note there. Then you go home and wait another 3 weeks lol. Finally I get an e-mail that I was hired for a post some 5 towns away from where I interviewed, in a suburb of Buffalo. Whatever, I took it, and then started the training.

I won't bore you with the training, as it's typical Federal stuff - dry as all get out. But here we saw the beginning of the process of what mail is and how it gets done, and thus started the mindf$%^ing.

All the mail that gets collected from the post office and the RCA's and the CCA's and the PO Boxes and collection boxes etc get dumped into mass bins at each post office. These bins are collected by big trucks that go office to office until they are filled. By "big truck" I mean a giant box truck, perhaps similar in size to the standard UPS truck. These trucks bring them to huge loading docks at the processing center referred to as only "The Plant". Ours (obviously) is in Buffalo. It has 40some docking bays incoming on one side and another 40some outgoing on the other.



Huge bins of shuffled mail are unloaded and taken to the first of many giant machines. When I say giant, I mean not one of these many machines would fit into an NFL stadium. They are obscene in size. An arm grabs a bin, dumps it into the beginning of the first machine, and conveyors start ripping the mail away at 100mph. There are a bunch of bumpers and arms in transit to sort of knock the mail apart so they fly single file and not all piled up, and somehow, none gets lost. Really, letters are zipping right along, getting flipped and swatted this way and that, I'm talking tens if not hundreds of thousands of pieces a day, and none really goes AWOL. By the time the mail gets to the scanner, it's all been knocked into a neat, single file line. From there, it is smacked and flipped so all letters are facing the same way. You cannot imagine this without seeing it, it looks a complete disaster, but somehow it works. After arranged, a scanner reads the address... yes, a scanner reads every handwritten, palsied, Parkinson written, little kid printed, caligriphized slop job, still going 100 mph, and flings letters into the first bit of sorting. Broad strokes, this time - international here, northeast hub there, out west over there. This is just the first steps, and I already am at a loss of how it separates, flips, reads, and sorts all that mail as fast as it does.



These "regionally" sorted piles are huge, still tens if not hundreds of thousands of items. A big arm grabs a huge bin of the sorted regional piles and sends them to another machine, also damn near a quarter of a mile long. Here is the first human interaction. A person takes them out of the bin by the stack and puts them into the sorter. You ever see a money counter? It works just as fast, just a raspberry fart sound as letter are fwptptptpt'ed along at 100 mph. They zoom around a machine on belts and rollers, very similar to the way the huge casino bank money counters work. Only here, instead of just 6 boxes for each denomination, there are tens if not hundreds of boxes for each office. 100mph letters fly along this belt and some sort of mechanism knocks it out of line when it's over the appropriate box.



Packages and parcels are handled in much the same way, only the machines are bigger. Conveyors run the whole length of the building, go around a spiral up to the roof, run all the way back to the other end of the building, spiral back down to the floor, and get dumped off at all points along the way, same as the letters. Imagine every cartoonist conception of a processing plant, everything from Seuss' Star Bellied Sneetches to Pink Floyd's The Wall, mash them all together, and you may have just described one half of one of these processes. It. Is. Madness.



There are machines 400' long of just rows and rows of boxes, stacked three high or so, with letters flying into them 100mph. When one is about full, the machine jiggles and a box is loosed at one end and begins trundling down the conveyor. When it just about reaches the full box, an arm pushes the full one onto the conveyor and it takes off. Another arm stops the empty box, a third arm pushes it into place, and the process never stops. Other than that person that loads letters in Step 2, no other people touch anything. Just mind blowing.




In short, the process begins with a mass of intermixed mail from our entire region. Buffalo, the northtowns, the southtowns, the burbs, the sticks, all mixed homogeneously. By the end of this process, not only is it sorted by region, not only by county, not only by town, not only by station, but it is sorted, in order, by route. My DPS (1st Class Mail - letters and bills and stuff), my FFS (2nd Class - magazines, newpapers, etc), and NOVM (3rd class - junk mail) is all in order, by address, for my entire route, and all 50 some routes in my office. 661 stops, and I've almost no sorting to do myself. Just grab it and go.

Mindf$%^ is the only way to describe it.

I'll stop for now to allow questions (if any) and then I'll get to what I do.
Be bold and risk defeat, or be cautious and encourage it.
June 15th, 2015 at 6:24:49 PM permalink
rxwine
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 132
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That was pretty cool actually. I've never read anything about the big mail industrial process. (all info from the small time mail man and small town operations and mostly fictional TV)

The way you described it reminds me of the hazards of a sausage factory. One wrong move and you're stamped and filed into a bin.
Nobody learned anything from the global financial crisis.
June 15th, 2015 at 6:36:43 PM permalink
rxwine
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 132
Posts: 6714
Reminded me of this, music and all.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=23jdesvCoOY#t=43
Nobody learned anything from the global financial crisis.
June 15th, 2015 at 6:39:05 PM permalink
Face
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Quote: rxwine
That was pretty cool actually. I've never read anything about the big mail industrial process. (all info from the small time mail man and small town operations and mostly fictional TV)


Thanks =) I thought it was pretty wild. I know how often our casino money counters malfunctioned or jammed, and these things, while similar to the point of almost being identical, are orders of magnitude larger (just exaggerating for effect, Paco =p). Actually seeing every step of where my stupid bills go and how many automated processes have to flip, sort, read, send, file, arrange... I seriously don't get how it all works. Mail should be a disaster with about a 13% successful delivery rate period, yet we're all pretty certain our first class stuff sent out Monday will arrive anywhere in the country or the world by Wednesday. It's a million miracles a day.

Quote: rxwine
The way you described it reminds me of the hazards of a sausage factory. One wrong move and you're stamped and filed into a bin.


There's not much of that here, I suspect because of the level of automation. Here, back injuries are probably the most common, along with joint and ligament damage. The mass carts in The Plant weight upwards of 800lbs empty, and there's very specific ways you're supposed to push and maneuver them. The people who do that work are bending into them and lifting out 50lb totes 6 days a week; you can see why back injuries lead. Pinched fingers, runned over feets, that kind of stuff is our plague. Other than that, it's the RCA's who got it next worst. I often get shook by big rigs and close callers, as I deliver on the shoulder of a four lane. Getting whacked is a serious risk. I've already almost got a system down so I'm changing my trays in a cul de sac or dead end road, but I've had to do it in some busy sections and it ain't cool. People just don't give a shit, and in just 6 days, I've already flinched in preparation for a mirror strike as they buzz by that close to me. And as cliche as it is, dogs are a real threat, too. We all carry spray and had a good couple hours just on dealing with dogs in training. Dunno how well the spray works, but I always was a hell of a punter ;)
Be bold and risk defeat, or be cautious and encourage it.
June 15th, 2015 at 7:30:21 PM permalink
Nareed
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
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I look forward to reading your account, Face, when I find the time to devote to it.

In the meantime, everyone who's seen "Men in Black II," knows something about postal workers. Care to comment on that? ;)
Donald Trump is a fucking liar
June 16th, 2015 at 4:11:34 AM permalink
AZDuffman
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
Threads: 112
Posts: 8850
Rx already beat me to this, but I thought of it independently, and for those who want to hear the entire "factory music" cut:



Anyhow, interesting, and good luck. I know two guys, both over 50, that tried the USPS. One failed a back-up test on the RHD LLV and the other just could not deliver enough in a day. Said guy did lose about 40lbs in the six months he had the gig. I tried out for seasonal sorter work once and saw some of what you had in the pic. The process was much as you said, though shorter. I got a regular job before I was to report.

Are you going to be the type that uses your own car or will you just be a regular carrier in Hamburg?

I remember having to learn the then-new codes for states in school. It was when they bought those new sorters and people still put "penna" for Pennsylvania. One book was so old it still had "CZ" as available, they brought the book out for the mandate for that day only.

As to the "junk mail" the dirty little secret is that without it the USPS as we know it ceases to exist. To mail a letter might be $1.00 or more without it.
The man who damns money has obtained it dishonorably; the man who respects it has earned it
June 16th, 2015 at 12:50:59 PM permalink
DJTeddyBear
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
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Quote:
... Fom Seuss' Star Bellied Sneetches to Pink Floyd's The Wall, mash them all together ...


You really paint a picture. Fascinating post. I eagerly await the next installment.
Ignorance is bliss and knowledge is power. But having only some facts can get you into trouble!
June 16th, 2015 at 1:22:50 PM permalink
Face
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Quote: Nareed
I look forward to reading your account, Face, when I find the time to devote to it.

In the meantime, everyone who's seen "Men in Black II," knows something about postal workers. Care to comment on that? ;)


It'll be here when you're ready =)

As for MiB, do you mean that it's all aliens? Or that postal workers are an odd bunch?

On the latter, yes indeed. The skills needed can only be described as "peculiar". Like, most jobs you can sum up what is needed in two adjectives. As an Investigator, I had to have "attention to detail" and "be persistent". As a roofer, you need to "be efficient" and have good "physical fitness". In retail, you need to be "attentive" and "patient". Here, you have to be really good at two handfuls of things, minimum. You can be soft in one or two, but if you're soft in any more, or even just terrible at one, the whole processes crashes at your feet.

I think that's why there's not a "type" when it comes to mailmen. You have 60yr old women and little 100lb chickadees and massive dude bros and middle aged fat guys... it's all about who possesses a certain set of skills. It's weird, perhaps I can explain more / better later.

Quote: AZDuffman
I know two guys, both over 50, that tried the USPS. One failed a back-up test on the RHD LLV and the other just could not deliver enough in a day. Said guy did lose about 40lbs in the six months he had the gig.


See above. I can only say it's weird, and I'm not surprised that many fail. It's not at all uncommon, and that's just about all you hear through all of training and about every day I've been there. "It's not for everyone", "It takes a certain kind of person", etc.

Quote: AZD
Are you going to be the type that uses your own car or will you just be a regular carrier in Hamburg?


I didn't say Hamburg...



Lol, anyways, fortunately no. Hamburg is a big office. Each route has its own truck and there's no splitting of routes, so whoever is doing it gets the truck. I was worried about that, as while I'm sure I could RHD a LHD vehicle, there is no way I could RHD my LHD Silverado and reach out to a mailbox without running over mailboxes, children, loose dogs and old ladies. I did hear some of the smaller offices, where I hoped to get placed permanently, do have the non-permanent carriers use their own vehicles. So I get the truck, although while I trained on the LLV, I drive something else (CRV? CLV? I can't remember all their damned acronyms)

Basically (and I'm just rambling because you might enjoy knowing, as I did), an LLV is just an aluminum bodied box on an S-10 chassis. The LLV has a 2WD front axle and a 4WD rear axle, also both from the S-10. It gives a sort of weird track because the tires don't line up. The rears come to the edge of the body, while the fronts are tucked in a good 4"-6". That plus its puny 2,700lb curb weight makes them god awful in the snow. The "whatever acronym" that I drive has equally sized axles, so just my fronts have to tramp through the snow. The rears get to follow in their tracks. Regardless, I hear that all of them are just the pits in winter, and I believe it completely. Just in soggy shoulders I've already seen some slipping, and it's not like these things are torque monsters. Especially on the side roads, I am predicting many lost tempers in my future.

They're also, what, 26 years old? It's hard to tell because the aluminum body holds up so well and all still look relatively new, but they're all a mess. My tranny makes noises I dare not try to replicate with words, and it slips pretty much from the instant I leave the office. They come out of gear, they smell like a flogged golf cart, and they handle unlike anything I've ever driven. I swear it was made with no control arms, as it feels like the whole body just floats to and fro on the chassis. And there's no creature comforts whatsoever. I have an auxiliary fan someone mounted that blows hot air roughly in the direction of above my head... and that's pretty much it. All the surfaces inside are aluminum save for the seat, there's no a/c, no vents, barely any heat, no radio, no power anything... I pray for rain every day as it's like NASCAR inside that thing when the sun is out. I got woozy as hell Friday from the heat, and stepping out of the truck into 86* and 90% humidity gave me chills. I was completely drenched head to toe in sweat by 2p, and I didn't finish until almost 6p.

Quote: AZD
As to the "junk mail" the dirty little secret is that without it the USPS as we know it ceases to exist. To mail a letter might be $1.00 or more without it.


You mean NOVM. Apparently mail has feelings, so we are not allowed to call it "junk mail". It's "NOVM" - No Obvious Value Mail. This is the Federal Government, remember? ;) We also can't say "1st class", as I guess it's elitist. It's "DPS". And no 2nd class, either. It's "FFS" or "Flats". Can't have a government sponsored caste system, now, can we? =p

On cost, we learned a bit more that you may find interesting. Though we are Federally regulated, not a single penny of any USPS service, pension, or payroll comes from tax dollars. It is completely self sustaining, something I don't think I ever realized or thought about. Also, about the whole "USPS is in trouble". Yeah, a lot had to change with the advent of online shopping, and changes were made. But the real blow was that the Fed decreed the USPS had to escrow monies for future pensions and health care costs. I can't remember the date they said they needed covered to, nor how many millions of dollars it was, but they're almost there. And while I don't remember hard numbers, I do know it was so much money so far in advance that they've escrowed money to cover pensions of employees who haven't even been born yet.

It's weird to think that the Fed, of all people/things, had the foresight to do such a thing. Though I suspect it will be borrowed from discretely and fold before I can collect =p
Be bold and risk defeat, or be cautious and encourage it.
June 16th, 2015 at 1:55:53 PM permalink
Nareed
Member since: Oct 24, 2012
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Quote: Face
As for MiB, do you mean that it's all aliens?


Not all aliens. K worked there :)
Donald Trump is a fucking liar
June 16th, 2015 at 2:27:25 PM permalink
Face
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Quote: DJTeddyBear
You really paint a picture. Fascinating post. I eagerly await the next installment.


Thanks, DJ. Working on it now, just trying to parse it some. I get to rambling sometimes =p
Be bold and risk defeat, or be cautious and encourage it.
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