Labor

The Horrific New Marriage Between Your Post Office and Amazon Sunday

I'm a member of the USPS “underclass” that was created to help pave the way so deals such as Amazon Sunday delivery could be reached.

“Amazon.com, the e-commerce company based out of Seattle, Washington, has recently partnered up with the USPS to deliver packages on Sundays to its Amazon Prime customers.”

This rather benign sounding statement has been effusively thrown around the media circuit when discussing the arrangement that’s been made between these two organizations; oftentimes praising the USPS’s bravery in its time of embattlement, while also championing the cornering of another market (Sunday delivery) for Amazon.

But wait! There’s something missing from all these announcements! What has been ignored is the reality of what it means for the workers who are implementing this new, surprising arrangement.

See, I am a member of the USPS “underclass” that was created to help pave the way so deals such as Amazon Sunday delivery could be reached. I am a CCA, City Carrier Assistant, with the United States Postal Service. My hope here is to illuminate exactly what Amazon.com and the USPS’s program means for the cadre of employees who share this title; and more importantly what this means to the postal service as a whole.

Prepped for the Auction Floor

City Carrier Assistants are a brand new classification of employee within the postal ranks; we are the low-wage, non-career, complement workforce at the USPS. On January 11, 2013 this position was created by an arbitration board who settled the stalled labor negotiations between the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) and the USPS management. This set the terms for the National Agreement, which is in effect for the years 2011-2016.

CCAs weren’t always considered a low-wage workforce. Before the reclassification we were called Transitional Employees (TE) and made a respectable $23.52 hourly rate, only several dollars per hour less than what the average career employee made. But with the USPS management’s financial woes and the recently concocted, yet unused,  Negotiated Service Agreements plan—discussed in the next section— a low-wage workforce was needed to help entice big business into choosing the postal service to partner up with.  City Carrier Assistants now perform the same work they did when they were called a TE, but now they get to do that work for 31 percent less pay —TE’s who were reclassified as CCAs now make $16.68 per hour. What’s worse is that newly hired CCAs will make even less —starting at $15 per hour.

The stage was now set for postal management to undercut all other competitors and offer up the postal network —at a drastically reduced rate—to any takers.

Enter the Amazon deal.

The devil is in the details…if we could see them!

With the USPS being financially burdened by congressionally mandated pre-funding for retiree healthcare packages (paying 80 plus years in advance at 100% compensation —a burden no private company has had to nor could endure), it has looked to find different avenues to help increase its profitability and fight to stay viable in this ‘age of digital mail.’ To help combat this huge economic disadvantage —along with the decrease in first-class mail volumes— the USPS management has attempted to implement many different approaches to their problem. They’ve tried ending Saturday delivery, contemplated neighborhood cluster boxes, which would oust door-to-door delivery, and of course, there’s the tried and true elimination of positions, which the USPS has been engaged in since the unprecedented 2006 pre-funding mandate was established. Their latest solution is a relatively new business concept called the negotiated service agreement or NSA.

So what exactly is an NSA?

Well let’s see what USPS.com has to say about it:

“A Negotiated Service Agreement is a contractual agreement between the U.S. Postal Service® and an individual company that provides customized pricing incentives or other arrangements justified by a shift in the company's mail operations. NSAs are intended to meet the needs of specific customers for whom mail is an integral part of their business strategy.”

Essentially, NSA’s will initiate the piecemeal morphing of the postal service from a public entity into one that is beholden to its corporate partners; it’s privatization in a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ manner. Those who support the USPS and its workforce take notice.

On October 15, 2013 the postal service agreed upon an NSA with Amazon.com to deliver only Amazon packages on Sundays; the largest NSA to date. What’s actually contained within the document is anyone’s guess because, outside of the rather banal business jargon, the agreement is largely redacted.

Without any discernible details to suggest what constitutes this agreement, we’ll have to take a look at it in practice.

No End in Sight

The Amazon Sunday Delivery program became available to a large portion of the United States in November 2014. This is when my city, Greensboro, NC, joined the bandwagon.

At an impromptu morning meeting our station manager announced to everyone that we, the USPS, would be delivering Amazon parcels on Sundays and that the CCAs would be the primary workforce to deliver this newly acquired workload.

Before the Amazon reveal, CCAs in Greensboro were already working six days a week at roughly 8-10 hours worked per day. The work we perform is grueling and the days are long. We spend the entire workday combating weather extremes, making sense of unfamiliar routes, and dealing with management’s repeated calls to hurry things up while making our rounds.

This morning announcement meant management was going to start scheduling the CCAs seven days a week —giving us no rest days and showing no regard for our personal lives and other responsibilities.

Work has now consumed our entire lives.

The seven-day workweek for the CCA is not exclusive to Greensboro, NC either; as the Federal Soup forums can attest, the same is being done nationwide.  As with all things in life, CCA abuse runs along a continuum with some stations showing more mercy while others unrelentingly utilize their CCAs. Sadly, most stations seem to be falling into the latter group.

An interesting point about all this new business the postal management has drummed up is that they are aggressively forcing all of it onto only a small segment of its total city carrier workforce. In fact, the USPS only wishes to add to the CCA’s burden. Sue Brennan, a USPS spokesperson, told DCVelocity’s Mark Soloman “If other merchants are interested in Sunday deliveries, we’d be happy to talk to them.” To a CCA, this comment would be translated into “We’re going to make your days even tougher!”

Moreover, according to the National Agreement mentioned above, which postal management is to abide by, the maximum number of CCAs hired can be no more than 15% of the total number of career employees.  Management does however reserve the right to hire up to 8,000 more CCAs to add to that percentage but, they don’t seem too eager to hire any more CCAs to help, as Brennan told International Business Times “Sunday delivery will be handled by existing staff.”

This double-whammy of management’s incessant need to increase the CCA’s already formidable workload —to maximize their gains from the Amazon agreement— coupled with their unwillingness to hire reserve help from the allowed 8,000, choosing instead to handle the additional workload with existing staff, the future looks rather bleak for the CCA.

It’s no wonder why newly hired CCAs do not hang around for long. In the city of Greensboro alone, we have had many CCAs —five that I personally know of— quit shortly after starting; the euphoria of making over twice the current NC minimum wage of $7.25 is quickly dispelled once the harsh reality of what that wage entails sets in. Signing one’s life away for $15 per hour is not something which most people are willing to do.

Expand We Must

Now I really hate to sound so morose, but for the CCA workforce things will only get worse.

Amazon and the postal service are piloting a program in select cities that would make those seven days even longer for the CCA called AmazonFresh.  AmazonFresh is a test-program where same-day deliveries of online ordered groceries will be made. The USPS has agreed to lend Amazon its postal fleet from the hours of 3:00-7:00am and readied its CCA workforce in these chosen cities.

That’s right…your mailperson will now also be your neighborhood grocer!

With a low-wage workforce, NSAs, and an eagerness to expand partnerships with just about any company willing to pay, there’s no telling what other non-mail related assignments the USPS wants to add to the CCA task list.

One thing is certain though, CCAs will be having very, very long work days.

A shifting of Priorities

Since the Amazon Sunday program began in Greensboro, a very interesting development has started to take place involving how the Amazon packages are treated; Amazon packages are treated as ‘gold’ and given the utmost importance.  An Amazon package trumps all others received to deliver that day; even the ones that are more profitable to the postal service, such as priority mailers.

At no time did this shift become more apparent to me than on a day I was extremely overburdened with work and had to bring mail back to the station. Sacrilege, I know!

When I came in, the evening shift manager stormed over to me and blurted out “There better not be any Amazon packages in there!”

“There may be. I was told to bring it all back.” I replied.

Rifling through my hamper she pulls out two very small Amazon packages and exclaimed “Great! Now I’m going to have to take these back out!”

What’s odd was that she left many Priority packages which the shippers paid top dollar to have delivered. Priority parcels are considered top tier for the USPS, just under Express mail.  Amazon packages, in contrast, are Parcel Select — practically the very bottom of the parcel hierarchy. Those two Amazon packages generated no more than several dollars for the postal service; the Priority packages, on the other hand, had far larger profit margin yet were left on the floor.

Postal management is showing just how beholden it is to Amazon by screaming “Yes! Yes! Yes!” to them while giving everyone else a flat “No.”

What other concessions will be made to appease Amazon or any another business who signs an NSA with the USPS?

Only time will tell.

One thing is sure, the postal service is changing and not for the better.

The Pacified Watchdog

The National Association of Letter Carriers is the entity to which all mail carriers turn when issues arise in the workplace; they are the voice and the protector of the entire workforce.

In practice the NALC and its officials have shown that they have clearly forgotten their raison d’etre.  

The Union didn’t stand up for us when we had our wages pilfered; they turn a deaf ear as we scream for help, and they stay silent as they bear witness to our abuse.

They’ve done nothing and it looks to stay that way.

As one Branch 630 Union official stated to me “There’s nothing in the contract that I can go to management and say do this!” referring to CCAs being given days off like their career counterparts.  That particular conversation ended with an exasperated “Our hands are tied!”

The CCA demand is a simple one —to be treated like a respected and valued asset to the organization.  

With this inaction from the local Union officials, I resorted to a thorough reading of the contract. I was on the hunt for any contractual protections my fellow CCAs and I could garner. On that front I was faced with the grim discovery that the language used is so vague, in regards to the CCA position, that management can practically do whatever they please with those in that position.

Was this intentional?

What I did find, however, was that postal management has been underpaying the CCAs for each and every hour worked on Sundays for the past two months and counting. Article 8.6 of the National Agreement titled ‘Sunday Premium Payment,’ specifically states that ‘each’ employee who works on Sunday, 12:01am-12:00pm, shall be paid extra compensation at the rate of 25 percent of the employee’s base hourly rate.  

This was my eureka moment.

Is the practice of wage theft widespread at the USPS? I cannot say with absolute certainty, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it were.

If the Union only enforces what is contained within the contract, then here it is! We can formulate another attack for the abusive scheduling of CCAs, but, in the meantime, CCAs can at least get more pay for working on Sundays; pay which the CCA is contractually entitled to.

When this was brought to the Union’s attention, the response back was “That doesn’t apply to CCAs,” without giving any explanation as to why.

Which side of this fight are they on?

Was the NALC content with allowing this contractual violation to continue?

As postal management easily casts aside it’s long established, profit stratified parcel hierarchy when it comes to the financial gains that can be made off the backs of the CCA to satisfy a corporate partner, so too does the Union cast aside its regulatory guide when it comes to taking a stand for the CCA and risking their comfortable positions.

This Amazon deal has revealed the cruelty of management and the failings of the Union.

The City Carrier Assistant is alone at the post office.

Turning the Tide

All hope is not lost though.

Hopefully some actions can be taken to help reverse these ruinous trends, and the public will take notice.

Rank and file NALC members need to rise up and demand action from Union officials on behalf of their suffering brothers and sisters.

It’s time for the NALC to prove they still have relevance in a changing work environment; it’s time they stood for the “entire” workforce.

Perhaps it’s time to unsheathe the one weapon which management fears the most and which the NALC has cast to the wayside since its inception; perhaps it time to strike!

For without us what will be delivered?

 

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