Nick’s Notes: I was originally going to put this in my Abolish Work collection but it didn’t end up making it!
On May 12, 2016 I interviewed my long-time friend Sam about his experiences at the post office, his thoughts on work and anti-work, this is what happened.
Nick Ford: What’s your name and what can you tell us about yourself with regards to anti-work ideas?
Sam: Well my name is Sam..
I wouldn’t say I’m die-hard anti-work but the whole idea of work in today’s society, it really fucking pisses me off. I’m not trying to be Mr. Fucking Company Guy, working 80 hours a week, having no life because of some stupid asshole boss. That doesn’t give a fuck about me or my life or any of that shit, I’m not about that.
I am a – maybe you or a boss could construe it as me being selfish, but he’s being selfish too so fuck him. I’m looking out for my interests and my mental health. If I work for a billion hours a week I’m going to be burnt out all of the time and angry and depressed and it sucks!
And I don’t need the money, I’m a cheap guy, I don’t have very expensive taste and I’m thrifty because I’m Jewish. So I don’t need to be Mr. Workaholic and I don’t want to be a workaholic.
NF: I know that you have some sort of lovely experience you’d like to share with us about the post office.
Would you like to tell us about your wonderful experience?
SS: I would absolutely like to tell you about the goddamn post office.
So, I get the job at the post office, I pass some tests and I nail the interview and it seems a legitimate thing. And you know, it’s a government job and it’s got benefits and all of that stuff. You know, a pension, stuff you can’t get anymore from most places. So I was like, you know, this should really be perfect. And you know, one of the stereotypes of the post office is that th[e] [workers] are lazy and they don’t work much. I’m kind of a lazy guy and I was kind of down with that whole idea. So, like I said this might be the job for me!
So I got the job at the post office and I was thinking, “This is going to be pretty good!” I went through the training and it was 39 hours in a week. So one hour less than the full 40 hours. Now, I bring that up specifically because the reason it was an hour less was so that they could screw you out of vacation time. Because at the post office every twenty hours you get an hour of vacation time. So if you work 39 hours, you get \one hour. If you work 40 hours, you get two hours, they don’t prorate it at all. So that 19 hours is wasted. And even though our trainers at the post office – they’re the ones who told us that and they told us that the post office does it on purpose.
So I was already getting the fucking idea that this kinda blows. These people kinda blow.
But you know, whatever, I was still willing to give it a try. It’s $16 an hour, which is a pretty good rate of pay.And there was still vacation time, not a lot of it, but it was still something. No other benefits by the way, not till you became “regular”. They said it took about a year to become “regular” which means you are a full and official member of the post office with benefits and all of the jazz.
So I went over to the Medford post office for my first day of work and immediately realized that I been fed a spoonful of lies. I was put on the schedule for about two straight weeks without a day off. Including my driving and training day, so I was scheduled from a Tuesday in one week to all the way through the Saturday in the next week. Then I had one day off and then back to work on Sunday delivering Amazon packages.
They used to give almost everyone Sunday off but because they have a contract with Amazon now they make all of these new employees work on Sunday. So I was scheduled for probably a week, about 80 hours. So the money would have been nice and if I was a workaholic maybe I would’ve liked it but I’m not as you are already aware.
So I immediately got the message and quit three days after working for the post office.
NF: Three days huh?
SS: Not including the training! If you include the training, it was five days of training, I lasted eight days.
I quit immediately after receiving my check for the training.
NF: Now Sam, tell me, did you give them any heads up at all? Any notice? Any phone calls?
SS: Absolutely not!
I knew it was a Friday, I knew I was due to get the check so I went into the office, I talked to the boss and nothing personal against him, he’s actually an alright guy. But he has his hands tied. He has to deal with what his superiors tell him to do. So I asked him, “Hey do you have my check?” He was like, “Oh yeah, here ya go.”
I swiftly pocketed my paycheck and I was like, “Hey, I gotta talk to you. Yeah I’m quitting, this is terrible.”
I told him I had another job lined up but I did not in fact have another one lined up and was unemployed for another month. But I didn’t care cause that job was fucking miserable, I was not going to go through with it. The Sunday they were going to have us unload packages in the morning was going to be -20 degrees that morning.
And they were gonna have us out there with inadequate equipment, all they gave us was three flimsy shirts and a hat, you had to bring your own gloves, you have to provide all of that stuff until you became – regular. Or until you lasted 90 days and then they gave you a small budget that would let you buy a coat.
So, woefully under-prepared, woefully inadequate, the job sucked and that was it for me!
And I would never go back to the United States Postal Service, never, under any circumstances!
NF: What were the job conditions? What were you supposed to do in a given day?
SS: The job conditions seem a lot better on paper until I had to actually experience them.
They work you hard, in Medford at least. Different post offices have different rules and stuff. Some post office routes have you stay in the truck all day and you just drive up to boxes and you stick the mail in the boxes and that’s all you do, you don’t really get out. They’re called a mounted route.
The ones here though, for the most part, are you either stuff all your mail in the morning. you put it in your truck and you drive out and that’s where you get the mail. But in Medford you have to case the mail which takes about two hours and you need to order it in how it’s going to be delivered. You put it in a bunch of giant stacks and you have to go drag it on a truck and then throw it on the truck. And that truck driver goes to all of the transfer boxes, those are the green boxes you’ve probably seen them around that have “US Mail” on them. And they put them in there and while you’re out on your route, you have to follow a specific sequence of houses. They give you a little sheet to do it on and you have to deliver mail in that order and you pick it up from the boxes.
The working days are 10 hours if not a little more, you have to stay until the mail is done. And as someone who is not regular, they can continue sending you out on to unfinished routes, let’s say 5 people went home sick, that’s 60 routes in Medford. And I was the new guy and they could have kept sending me out and out. There have been stories of CCAs (which was my position) until 10 or 11 at night in some places, especially in Maryland. So you had workers who were very overworked. In fact a few CCAs have been killed on the job because they’ve been out some late in bad neighborhoods and one guy in Maryland was shot in cold blood.
SS: I was delivering in Medford, I’ve never seen anyone delivering mail past 8 or 8:30 so I wouldn’t have been put in a situation like that, I know Medford and I know people in Medford, I would have been safe. But as a nationwide employer, being an arm of the federal government, there are all sorts of different working conditions ranging from mediocre to extremely poor. And that was another thing, I started reading, and I had purposely not read stories about this job to not bias what I thought of it but I ended up going online and reading a lot of different reviews of being a CCA and the reviews were absolutely terrible. A lot of people had had bad experiences and there’s thousands of them online. So a lot of people had tried this job, trying to get a “cushy government job with a pension”.
But USPS is in a poor financial state as it is and while they’ve never “fired” anybody (that’s not to say they won’t in the future), very unreliable and they have a very over budgeted pension scheme, the government plays tricks on them, the government takes their money and uses it in other places, their forced to fund themselves and they have to do it.
So, it’s not entirely the postal service’s fault. They’re being forced to do a constitutional mandate with very poor resources and as a result the lowest rung workers really get shit on, terribly.
Also, there are two big lies that I found out.
I joined the postal service so I could have a job when I moved down to the New York metro area. Because being a nationwide thing, you can generally get transfers. I then found out from my trainer on site at the postal service that transfers are almost impossible. Because very few people in NY would want to transfer up here and you have to trade with somebody to transfer. And you have to be about equivalent in seniority with them, so it’s almost impossible to get a transfer.
SS: There was another lie but I forgot what it was but there were plenty of lies, honestly. I wouldn’t even have time to recount them all. And the trainers were great, the ones at our paid training. They were great because they did tell us teh truth on a lot of stuff. All of the things that I know they were able to tell us, they told us.
And that’s when I started having doubts about the job.
They warned us we would be working 70/80 hours a week, so. There were warning signs but the reality of i was even more shocking then I could even comprehend. You wouldn’t think with a government job it would be that bad, government jobs tend to be stereotypes as “sit around and doing nothing all day”.
But this was the exact opposite of that, unfortunately.
Me: Are there any ways that your views about work or the sort of demeanor towards work itself influence any of your decisions throughout this process?
SS: Oh I mean, absolutely!
As I mentioned I’m not a workaholic, I have no desire to throw myself into the post office.
Oh, that was the other lie by the way! They said, “Oh a year! About a year before you can become a regular.” There were CCAs at the Medford office who had been CCAs for over two years, they were ahead of me in seniority as I was at the bottom of the list. There were also people in some stations who were made regular in less than a month.
And that’s because of the arbitrariness of the post office district. Some towns are their own district, like Bedford is it’s own district. So if you’re a CCA in Bedford, there’s almost nobody in front of you. As soon as someone retires you’re basically in. And the post office has a lot of older employees.
And then Medford is in a district with 50 different post offices. Not only that but I could get arbitrarily reassigned out of Medford. They could send me as far away as Braintree or Quincy. And there was actually a woman in my training class, she lived in Mattapan, she didn’t own a car, they assigned her to Newtonville. Like I said, she had no car and the public transportation trip on that was about 2 1/2 hours long, so she ended up quitting before the training process had even finished.
SS: And so that was another bullshit thing. There was actually a woman in my class assigned to Bedford and she didn’t live any closer to Bedford than I did. It was completely arbitrary, unfair, bullshit.
And I was fairly anti-work to begin with. It’s only strengthened my resolve that work in it’s modern form is complete fucking bullshit. There’s not real fair compensation for almost any job out there. I think with most of [the ones that are fairly compensated], people are paid way too much to do what their doing. And most people are paid way too little to deal with the stress and physical wear and tear that the job can do to you.
The post office expects – you could walk 12 miles every day. By the two days I had went out and delivered mail with my trainer, I walked 15 miles both days. No matter how good shape you are in, walking that many a day? Almost every older guy at the post office had had multiple knee replacements or hip replacements, or all sorts of things. And a lot of these guys were in great shape!
I’m a fat guy; I wouldn’t have lasted at all!
So just the arbitrary bullshit that was not something I was a fan of, to say the least.
NF: Do you have any concluding thoughts about anti-work, the postal service and your experiences there, or any other jobs you’d like to briefly mention?
SS: I think a big problem – there are so many problems with “work” today. I think one of the biggest problems is the erosion of the 40 hour work week. A lot of people – because of the stagnation of wages, are being forced to work more than 40 hours. Because they simply can’t make ends meat otherwise, especially when they have children. I’m a single guy, you’re a single person and single as in “single household” obviously.
So it’s easier for people like us but if you have kids and stuff and you’re making $11 an hour, you can’t live on 40 hours a week. You gotta work 60, 80 hours a week, it’s wearing people out. And then, I can live on 40 hours a week but it’s almost impossible to find a job that has 40 hours a week! It sucks. All I want to do is 40 hours a week, I have a social life. Not much of one but I have a social life and I just like to relax. I like to enjoy life, I like to go out on a drive, I like to read in my spare time, I like to play video games and all that sort of stuff.
And you can’t do it when you’re working 60 hours a week and you’re burnt out all of the time. That’s my biggest problem with the culture of “work work work” these days. I think, being of Latin heritage myself – and this is such a stereotype but I think there’s something to be said for things like fiestas and not working so hard.
Because you work your whole life away and you don’t get to take any of that shit with you.
I’ve been very anti-work my whole life. My mother sort of influenced me, she gave me my first book on any sort of anti-work ideas. I think a lot of people would be receptive to the idea of it, if they really heard what it was about. Because I don’t think what I’m saying is radical at all in a lot of ways, I think a lot of people would agree with me.
I think a lot of people would agree with your message as well.
NF: Thank you so much, Sam. I appreciate your time and I can’t wait to hear about your next adventure with your next job.
SS: Oh yeah! I’m already having – like I said [before the interview], I worked basically 12 hours yesterday so I’m sure there will be even more to be said about anti-work after my experience in this place.
NF: Fantastic, I look forward to it!