Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I'm Hired - Wheeeee!

How can you tell when the Post Office is hiring?

When the flag is at half mast.

There is a lot about the Postal Service that runs counter to the normal business world, plus it is different than the average government job. For one thing, the Postal Service has it's own pay scale. A G4 or G5 government worker doesn't translate into a Level 4 or Level 5 postal employee.

The hiring practice is different as well. You have to take a test(postal entrance exam) to get in. Back in the day, the test I took had two modules - general knowledge and short term memory.

100-699 Elm1300-2399 Elm700-1299 Elm
Box 1-399Box 1000-1699Box 400-999
(I can't do tables in HTML very well)

This is a very limited example of a table provided for study for the short term memory test. There would be more than three columns and two rows for sure. Notice how the addresses and the boxes aren't in order. The test taker is providing information on how well they can learn and retain information. When postal workers sort a city scheme into the letter cases, the slots are labeled for carrier routes. The individual address ranges must be memorized. It doesn't follow that Carrier One gets all the lower addresses, or part of a street, or all of it. It just depends on the delivery area and the route the carrier follows to deliver the mail. Carriers deliver "loops" where they start and stop at the same place (when on foot).

Anyhow, the test takers are given a period of time to memorize what they can and answer what questions they can. Was Box 1500 in A, B, or C?

I understand the test now has five or more modules, being more specialized than the one I took. Once you have taken the test, you are put on the "register." The call ins start with the highest scores, and as time goes on, the lower scores are called in. If I recall correctly, eighty is the minimum score. You can hurt your score by answering all the questions and getting a lot wrong, more than answering fewer correctly.

The job you will be trying for is considered career employment, but it is also considered part time by the postal service. The position is called Part Time Flexible or PTF. The postal service loves acronyms. There are a number of contract obligations for PTF's.

On call
Must have eight hours between shifts
Work schedule must be posted Tuesday
Only guaranteed two hours on scheduled day, no guaranteed hours
No holidays off
Normally no weekends off
Only one day per week required scheduled for day off
schedule due to change with no personal notice (your responsibility to check it every day)
Forced overtime if necessary

But, you do get insurance, vacation and sick leave and other benefits. You may see an ad in your local paper advertising for help at your local post office. These jobs are for temporary employees called "casuals." They are hired for a maximum of two three month periods, then they have to have a certain amount of time off before they can be hired again. There are no benefits other than they aren't contract laborers - they at least have taxes deducted. Hiring on as a casual does not improve or give any preference to hiring for a career position. Applicants for career positions are required to take the postal entrance exam, period. Postal exams aren't given on an individual basis - it may take up to five or six years between exams. The other ads are for exam preparation kits. You pay them for a study guide and a list of current entrance exams.

New hires of any stripe are at the bottom of the seniority ladder. PTFs are above casuals. This means casuals get the shit jobs, and they don't necessarily get to do some of the more preferential jobs at all. If a senior career employee sees a casual (or PTF, for that matter) doing something they want to do, and it falls within their job description, they can force the supervisor to let them do the easier job. Some employees live for this. This sort of behavior fosters ill will and job dissatisfaction (just one of many little things at the PO). Most of the shooting incidents in post offices involve casuals. They finally realize the efforts they have put into the job aren't going to get them anywhere, other than a day off. They were all informed of this since day one, but some still have the dreamy eyed optimism that they will, in fact, be asked to stay. They can also be disciplined or dismissed without the due cause protections that a career employee protected by contract enjoys. So, if you are desparate for a job or know someone that is, and they find there is an "opening" at the local post office - realize just what you're getting into. Personally, I recommend you run the other way as fast as you can.

If and when your name comes up, you will get a notice in the mail announcing an appointment to see the postmaster. That date and time are generally set in stone. The PM calls in a certain amount of people for a certain amount of positions. If there are two openings, the top two scores that show up get the jobs unless there is some sort of defensible reason they aren't qualified.

When I was called in, there were two of us. Myself and a black woman. I thought I was screwed right off - that in order to prove non descrimination perhaps a quota was necessary for hiring, and here was someone with two characteristics in the positive. She thought she had the job as well - her questions were primarily about the specifics of the job benefits, followed by "Thank God." I didn't ask very many questions. We were told that we would know within two or three days if we were successful candidates. I heard from the postmaster that night - he had me scheduled for fingerprinting and a screening physical. He was concerned that since I was a trucker, I would be out of town. It finally occurred to me that I did have the job.

During the next visit to the PM, I found him to be far friendlier. He grabbed my biceps and gave 'em a squeeze - telling me I would work out fine. Of course, I had no idea, but the work I did was very physical and involved lifting a lot of moderately heavy items. Later, I found out how he gamed the system. He actually had three openings, and he had filled two already. To get me to be the highest score for this interview, he called in everyone between the two he planned on hiring and me on the roster. He wanted the two he hired previously. The candidates between them and I - not so much. Since they were unsuccessful for those two jobs, they got put back on the roster, but the roster had to go to the bottom before starting over. The black woman and I were called in together because he had to have a selection - he didn't want to lose some below her for later consideration, and he wanted me.

It doesn't necessarily work that way at larger offices - they just don't have the time to check out every potential employee and just hire them as they come.

Thus began my career with the USPS.


Stacy said...

I just "love" postal stories. My dad was a rural sub for a while when I was a kid and my mom got hired about the time he quit. She retired a couple of years ago after 20 years as a rural carrier. She's still very active in the union. My aunt's a carrier in FL. Get the two of them together and.........I want to go postal.

And I got a 92 on that stupid test and never got a call.

Jeffro said...

Stacy: Heh - postal employees trading war stories?

My score was in the low eighties IIRC. There wasn't a new test given for years, and they got to me. I think it was eight years after I took the test before I "got the call." I'd given up and gone on long before then.

I always say it's a good job for the right minded people, but I'm not the right kind of person for them.