Time to "Go Postal"
By David Madison
JANUARY 12, 1998: The grinning mug of Ed McMahon might be to blame for the frantic look on your mail carrier's face.
American Family Sweepstakes mass-mailed its hokey prize envelopes out this week, with the ex-Johnny Carson sidekick smiling all the way. But the promise of a quick fortune added bulk to bags and stress to an already frazzled corps of mail carriers still shell-shocked from the holidays.
"Right after the holidays, it's really bad," says Craig, who recently became fed up enough to retire his mail bag. "This is actually the most stressful time of year for carriers. I swear to God, you'll see some of these people running."
Sweepstakes letters piled on tax forms stacked over after-Christmas sale catalogs: These are the items that try the patience of hard-working mail carriers.
"I wouldn't characterize it as stressful, but certainly there's a big workload," says Salt Lake City District Manager Stephen Johnson.
That workload is generated by low bulk-mailing rates, claims the ex-carrier Craig, who started his career in Nebraska, but later moved to Salt Lake City. "It's turned into a capitalist tool," he says. "And the postal rate commission is stacked with businessmen and they're not going to make the third-class rate go up."
On top of the demand to deliver reams of junk mail, Craig says carriers must endure a maze of regulations and the wrath of over-demanding managers.
"I decided to go outside the tent and piss in. There's nothing you can do when you're in there," says Craig, criticizing an incentive system that rewards managers for flexing an iron fist. By awarding over-zealous administrators and increasing the average carrier's workload with glossy booklets from Eddie Bauer and envelopes made heavy with promises from Ed McMahon, Craig says the U.S. Postal Service has concocted a recipe for on-the-job stress. "I've seen people who are on the edge. Back in Nebraska, I saw a guy snap. He actually hit a supervisor."
Recent headlines out of Denver only reinforce the "going postal" stereotype. On Christmas eve, a fired employee held seven people hostage at a post office and forced the evacuation of a major regional mail center. David Jackson had decked himself out in fatigues and body armor and headed back to work after being let go for threatening a supervisor.
Jackson was eventually taken into custody, and the hostage stand-off did not end as tragically as a 1986 incident in Edmond, Okla., where a part-time carrier killed 14 colleagues and himself.
In response to the recent Denver incident, friends of the gun-wielding postal worker say he didn't deserve to be fired after 14 years on the job. One former co-worker told the Associated Press that Jackson was "a good man. But the post office kept screwing with him."
After plodding away on routes in Millcreek and Sugar House, Craig says he sympathizes with local carriers under the thumb of managers who collected cash bonuses last year for running super-tight ships.
"I'm an award-winning carrier," says Craig. "But I felt like I had to quit because their standards are too high. They're unreasonable."
Craig says he was once reprimanded for finishing his route one minute late and thinks the postal service remains intoxicated by the idea of promoting a "military style" of management. This drill sergeant approach remains, says Craig, even after disgruntled employees have demonstrated their own "military style" of violence.
"They keep saying they're going to change it, but the only thing they did was issue a statement from D.C. that said, 'If you bring a weapon to work, you're fired,'" remarks Craig, laughing at the notion that a crazed gunman might be worried about losing his job.
District Manager Johnson dismisses Craig's complaints about how the postal service manages its employees. He says there are counseling services available for anyone in need of assistance, whether it's personal or work-related. As for post office bosses relishing the role of taskmaster, Stephens says, "Managers are paid to manage and have an efficient operation. That's what managers do. But hopefully, none would cause stress."
And while Johnson and Craig disagree about postal service management, both agree that mail carriers have gotten a bum rap in the public eye. Johnson shrugs off the stereotypes and points to a study from the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which deemed the post office to be an especially safe place to work.
However, the CDC study hasn't done much to change popular opinions and did nothing to stop the creation of a video game called "Postal." Joystick in hand, players can pretend they woke up crazy one morning, just like a mail carrier facing the post-Christmas grind. The points rack up as innocent bystanders fall. It's a video killing spree a pressure-driven taste of mayhem with each player's success measured by a mounting body count.
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