Labor

The Real Cost of 'Amazon Sunday'

Mail carriers are at the mercy of a brutal postal management looking to appease Amazon.

With the enactment of what many postal employees have come to call “AmazonSunday,” a program offering Sunday package delivery for Amazon’s Prime customers, the United States Postal Service management began the compulsory seven-day workweek for its City Carrier Assistant workforce.

City Carrier Assistants are a new classification of employee within the postal ranks; they are the low-wage, non-career, complement workforce—the “underclass” of the post office. The CCA does 30 percent more work and receives 50 percent less pay than their full-time regular counterparts. They are the mule of the postal service. (Both classification of employee have the exact same job requirements and duties.)

The CCA position was created to help entice big business into signing specialized contracts with the financially ailing USPS, called Negotiated Service Agreements, or NSAs. In these rough economic seas, postal management dangled the newly created, low-wage workforce and the postal fleet, just hoping for a bite. That bite came on Oct. 15, 2013. The postal service entered into the largest NSA to date with e-commerce giant Amazon.com, specifying that Amazon Prime packages would be delivered on Sundays. This gives Amazon a monopoly on Sunday deliveries while making USPS management salivate over the potential financial gains that could be made off the backs of those in the CCA position. It is important to note that all the work brought in by NSAs is being doled out only to the CCA position—the CCAs career counterparts have been left unscathed by this new development.

This new deal has proven to be the impetus behind postal management’s brutal utilization of its CCA workforce, creating the seven-day/no rest work cycle and perfectly exemplifying the extraordinary lengths to which the USPS will go to pander to its corporate partner’s interests.

NSAs have brought about the surreptitious privatization of one of the few public institutions remaining, and created a “Walmartization” effect within the postal workforce. 

The carriers’ union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, seems only all too eager to protect its comfortable positions and allow the savage treatment of the CCA to continue unabated. NALC agreed to a binding contract with USPS management, the National Agreement 2011-2016, which grants practically no protections and offers an insignificant amount of allowed reserve help for the CCA. The union's almighty “contract” is nothing more than a complete abdication of its responsibilities to half of the workforce under its watch.

Getting Personal

I was the only CCA in the city of Greensboro who could not comply with management’s new demand to work on Amazon Sunday. My wife is a nurse and we have five children between the ages of 10 and 2. Our tag-team schedules—I work Monday through Saturday at the post office and she works Sundays at the hospital—allowed us to skirt any childcare expenses. Our schedules as they were allowed my family barely to keep our heads above water.

The USPS, instead of making a simple managerial concession to account for my predicament, chose to honor the bottom line demands of its new corporate partner, Amazon, and launch a campaign of harassment against me which ultimately forced my resignation.

A Real Asset

My time at the postal service started in early December 2012, the height of the holiday season. With only two days of training under my belt, I was assigned to the 27403 section at Greensboro, North Carolina's Main Post Office, an all-walking section that contains some of the most difficult routes in the city.

I loved seeing new places and meeting the public, and enjoyed the constant physical challenges of the job. Due to my delivery speed, accuracy and workload I could handle, I soon earned the nickname “Super Paul” from many of my coworkers and was often called the “hardest working man in the Greensboro.” 

Being one of the hardest-working carriers at my station allowed management to give me an amount of work to complete that most of my coworkers wouldn’t have been able to handle. Management loved me. One of my previous supervisors, Ashley Markulik, called me her "best carrier,” while Crystal Brown, Greensboro’s Main Post Office station manager, called me “one of the best employees we have.”

Before Amazon came rolling into town, I never had any disciplinary actions taken against me and all my job performance reviews were stellar.

While “Amazon Sunday” was just a rumor circulating along the postal pipeline, I told my supervisors about the potential conflict between my Sunday availability and the demands that would be placed on the CCA workforce should the rumor become reality, but my concerns were dismissed.

A Concerted Effort

When Amazon Sunday finally came to Greensboro, on Nov. 16, 2014, management didn’t know how to coordinate the work, so they compensated by adopting an “All CCAs, Every Sunday, No Exceptions” method. The conflict between my availability and management’s demands was now concrete.

With my name now officially on the schedule for Amazon Sundays and with no way to comply, two options were available to me: either not show up, which would get me marked as absent without leave, an immediately terminable offense; or use the USPS automated call-out service. Either way I was facing discipline. I thought with the time calling out granted me, surely management would come to its senses and make an exception for an exemplary employee with a valid case for being unavailable. I was wrong. 

In the nine weeks following the December 11 meeting with Brown, I faced endless confrontations with a changing front of supervisors, received harassing texts the evening before and during Amazon Sunday, had three disciplinary talks for my “Failure to Report To Work,” was the target of threats from the station manager and street supervisors, issued a suspension for being “Irregular in Attendance,” and told that “If I called-out one more time, I would be removed from the postal service.” The union offered me no assistance. 

With the next Amazon Sunday creeping nearer, I chose to resign. I did so with a heavy heart, for this was a job I truly enjoyed and excelled at.

The option existed for me to have the union file a grievance, saying I had resigned “under duress,” but with local union officials admitting that they “cannot tell management how to schedule its employees,” I would have been stuck in an endless cycle of harassment. The thought of remaining in the USPS and NALC’s game of tug-of-war for an indeterminable amount of time was too much to bear. I decided to let my resignation remain unchallenged.

An Ongoing Problem

The toxic work environment USPS management and Amazon Sundays created affected each and every CCA; the stress and strain of unrelenting work is wearing people thin.

Here are a few of Greensboro’s horror stories attributed to Amazon Sunday.

  • Lou, 62, was on day 15 of solid work, was physically too tired to be sent back out to deliver more mail. For his defiance, he was phased off the schedule and left at home where he received a certified letter notifying him of his termination.
  • A two-year CCA, a young single parent in a situation similar to mine, was threatened with her job to such an extent that she felt the need to leave her eight-year-old daughter home alone for eight hours while she delivered Amazon parcels. She still experiences harassment for not giving the postal service every Sunday of every month.
  • Another female CCA, who had worked over 10 consecutive days, was diagnosed with pneumonia and told by her doctor to get some rest. She came to work anyway, but had to leave early because she could not physically complete her rounds.  The station manager told her she would lose her job at the USPS if she did not come in the following morning. 

Greensboro is not alone in abusing its CCA workforce. This is an ongoing nationwide problem. As one CCA stationed in Seattle told Geekwire’s Ashlee Keiler, “If you say that you’re unable to do so [work on Sundays], you’re threatened with loss of employment or told that you can find work elsewhere, at least that was what my manager told me.”

My father’s regular mail carrier in Martinsburg, WV told him, “The CCAs here are getting the shit kicked out of them too.” 

Up, down, left, right, north, south, east, and west—everywhere you look and everywhere you turn, you’ll find dejected, downtrodden CCAs working themselves into oblivion.

No Legal Recourse

Most of the CCA workforce in Greensboro, NC understands that their union does not support and will not fight for them. What may come as a surprise to many CCAs is that their own state doesn’t care for them either. According to NC labor law, everything the postal management has put them through, to satisfy its Amazon commitments, is perfectly legal.

North Carolina, along with 48 other states, operates under the “Employment-at-Will” doctrine, which states that the employer has supreme control over its employees. An employer can determine how many hours a day you work, on what days you work, if you get a lunch break, if you don’t get a lunch break, make overtime a condition of your employment, and to top it all off, can fire you for no reason.

With no protections contained within the National Association of Letter Carrier’s contract and not one state labor law to shield them, CCAs are at the mercy of a brutal postal management looking to appease its new corporate master, Amazon.

Glimmer of Hope

Perhaps the only solution to this problem would be for the CCA workforce to fight past their fears, band together in solidarity, and demand that NALC recognize their plight by calling for immediate negotiations on a new labor contract with postal management. It’s the very least NALC could do.

Just as I hope that my future gets brighter, I hope the CCAs does as well.

USPS management at the street supervisor, station panager, and postmaster level all declined to comment for this story.

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