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Dancing With the Devil - Life in Postal Management Hell as a 204b

Although many are mystified by his mysterious moniker, Mel Carriere is a San Diego mailman who writes about the mail, among other things.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe - Current overlord of Postal Hell and all of its minions.

Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe - Current overlord of Postal Hell and all of its minions.

A Modest Proposal - The Problem with Satire tells us that satire is the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.

Satire has been an extremely effective literary form that has been used by writers throughout the centuries to expose abuses in every walk of life, including those perpetrated by politicians, the clergy, business tycoons, etc. - but then again it was employed mostly back in the times when people actually still read books.

The problem with satire, however, is that people can be too literal sometimes, and there are always a few who just don't get it. For instance, in 1729 Johnathan Swift of Gulliver's Travels fame wrote an essay entitled "A Modest Proposal," in which he suggested that the Irish should eat their own children in order to alleviate the problem of hunger in that country. Believe it or not my friends, but in writing such a shocking treatise Johnathan Swift's purpose was not to actually advocate the consumption of infants. He had a deeper meaning behind the expose, which was to denounce the shockingly severe poverty and famine that existed in Ireland at the time.

But some people read the essay, scratched their heads, and didn't get it. Swift was probably denounced as a horrible cannibal in some quarters. And even among those who understood where he was coming from, there were many who thought that he should just stick to the dry facts in discussing the plight of the hungry in Ireland. No need to use any fancy literary devices, Mr. Swift, just give us the straight poop, please.

A few months ago I composed my own "Modest Proposal," entitled The 204b Survival Kit, Parts I & II. Like Swift, I also attempted to use satire and a bit of humor to expose the often hostile work environment that exists for managers and supervisors in the United States Postal Service. For the most part my articles were fairly well received, but as with Swift, there were some people who didn't understand where I was coming from. For example, I quote you the following comment left by a reader of that particular piece:

I actually started reading this thinking it would be informative... Then I realized that you are in idiot smh

That's a real comment, I didn't make it up. I didn't even know what smh meant, to be quite honest with you, and I had to go on the urban dictionary to look it up, which probably proved the comment writer's assessment of my intellectual capabilities. But I think it's abundantly clear from this comment that some people don't appreciate my humor, which I suppose is understandable.

Therefore, since people seem to want to be informed rather than entertained, and are apparently adverse to being informed and entertained at the same time, I thought I would attack this subject again, but from a different angle. Apparently there is a dearth of information on the topic of the 204b on the Internet, and there are postal employees who have been approached about moving up into postal management that need some hard, fast, and sterile facts about what they will be getting into. So even though it won't be easy and you might find me slipping at times, in this current attempt to expose and define life as a Postal 204b I will do my best to be as sterile and bland as possible, and hopefully this time I won't leave you shaking your head.

There will be no babies cooked here as Mr. Swift modestly proposes, but a tender young 204b can make a nice lunch if properly prepared.

There will be no babies cooked here as Mr. Swift modestly proposes, but a tender young 204b can make a nice lunch if properly prepared.

Read Swift's Modest Proposal

True Confessions

So the purpose behind this article is to let you know what you will be up against if you decide to dance with the devil and make the leap to 204b. And dance with the devil you will, because the folks who populate the ranks of Postal Management are not bound by the normal standards of conduct that generally govern what is known as "decent" human behavior. Postal managers lie, cheat, and steal on a daily basis, and the ones who do not generally don't get promoted and stay at the bottom of the food chain, where they are likely to be consumed like one of Swift's Irish babies sooner or later. Once again this is not an exaggeration; I am sticking to the absolute truth here so as not to leave you shaking your head and calling me an idiot.

Perhaps the best way to reveal the dangers of what you will be getting into is to tell my own story. I'm almost ashamed to admit it now, but I spent about a year and a half as a Postal 204b, and hated every single minute of it from day one. My motivations behind the move were noble enough; I actually believed that maybe I could make a difference, that I could help to change the corporate culture and improve the Postal Service as a whole. My thinking was that if the Postal Service is to survive it needs good, smart, honest people leading the way, and I considered myself to be such a person. I also felt a sense of duty; thinking that I had been endowed with gifts from my creator that I should use to better serve the human race.

But after a year and a half of slaving away in the lower rings of hell I felt I was at the point of a heart attack and a nervous breakdown and I had to get out because I wasn't serving anybody, especially my family. Surviving and prospering as a Postal supervisor requires a cast iron soul, and this I do not have. Sensitivity, honesty and thoughtfulness are ruthlessly exploited in the supervisory ranks and the people who exhibit such traits are quickly devoured and spit out. Every day when I showed up to work I was sick to my stomach, and had to spend several minutes in the bathroom beforehand collecting myself. I wanted to be a productive human being and see positive results for my efforts, but this job had no connection to being productive. Every day was like trying to bail out the Titanic using a shot glass, and it left me empty and unfulfilled.

When the Titanic is going down around you, it takes something a little bigger than a shot glass to bail it out with.

When the Titanic is going down around you, it takes something a little bigger than a shot glass to bail it out with.

Mutual Respect?

Just about every document published by the United States Postal Service contains a statement mandating mutual respect at all levels of the organization, but once I put on my 204b shoes it didn't take me long to understand that these soothing assurances of "...proper regard for an individual's dignity that is reciprocated" were mostly bunk, and if the concept did exist in the Postal Service it most certainly did not apply to me, the 204b, the lowest form of life on the Postal Planet.

I was given a verbal beat down by every Postal Manager I ever served. I am not talking about a dignified, calm redressing of issues that the manager might have had with my work habits, which I could have accepted, but an actual red-faced verbal butt kicking. At least most of the managers were polite enough to take me into the office and beat me up in private, but there was one over sized swaggering lout in particular who used to delight in using me as a whipping boy in front of all of the letter carriers and other employees on the workroom floor. He played the good guy, bad buy strategy to the tee, and would point me out as the source of all the letter carriers' woes in front of everybody, even though I was only enforcing his policies. After these incidents he would typically take me in the office and beg me not to quit.

This same man would also get me involved in his private politics with the Area Manager. When he went home early, which was almost every day, he would instruct me to lie to the Area Manager about his whereabouts, and then become raging angry if I didn't tell a clever enough lie.

Needless to say, going to work was not an enjoyable proposition with volatile, explosive people like these all around me, when I had to wonder at every minute if they were going to explode like a volcano and bulldoze me down in the path of the raging lava flow.

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The concept of Mutual Respect is a Postal Paper Tiger; it has little or no relation to the real world.

The concept of Mutual Respect is a Postal Paper Tiger; it has little or no relation to the real world.

Burning the Midnight Oil

These days when I talk to my fellow letter carriers about how I voluntarily stepped down from being a 204b, the number one reason I cite for my departure is because I was working 15 hour days, and not getting paid for it. When I tell them I was slaving away from 6 AM to 9 PM the response I usually get is "Doing what?"

Yes, the misconception is prevalent among letter carriers and perhaps working people in general that supervisors don't do much of anything except take two hour lunches and play blackjack on the computer, but the laundry list of mostly meaningless tasks and reports that I had to complete before going home were mind boggling. And then just out of pure spite, every couple of months or so some ivory tower high level manager would come up with another meaningless, probably redundant report for the 204b to complete because Lord knows those lazy, inefficient people in the trenches didn't have enough to do.

In the event that you are contemplating the plunge into postal hell, here is a short list of the things will be expected to do once the last carrier checks in from the street at the end of the day: Run a report to make sure the collection boxes have cleared, verify every express mail item has been delivered, count all misequenced, missorted, and missent letters in the 3M case then take a picture of a few sample pieces and submit a report, clear all customer complaints by calling and speaking to each customer, fix clock rings, do a floor check for outgoing mail, conduct vehicle inspections for outgoing mail, run timekeeping reports, run DOIS reports, send an email to the Area Manager about all carriers out after 6 PM. And remember, all this is being done while simultaneously answering the phone to probably respond to some idiotic request from the Area Manager and while also dealing with countless other crises that pop up inside the post office from minute to minute.

I'm sure that I've missed a few things on this list, because it's been a few years now. I would be remiss, however, if I didn't also point out that the time involved to complete these already laborious labors is aggravated exponentially by the fact that postal computers are notoriously outdated and slow. Some of these reports require uploading photos, something that the crippled Postal PCs struggle to do, so settle yourself in and don't expect to be going anywhere for a while, because the world's largest computer network is a very sluggish beast indeed.

While on the subject of uploading photos, the task I hated with every ounce of burning passion in my being was to take a picture of the outgoing mail truck and upload it to the Internet, where I imagine it remained in limbo until absolutely nobody looked at it. This is definitely an example of the kind of useless, meaningless busywork that Postal Upper Management invents just to remind the lowly 204b who is in charge.

But cheer up. Since my departure things have only gotten worse. With scanning fever in the air and competition for package delivery with FedEx and UPS heating up, the closing postal supervisor is now required to verify that every single package was scanned, and then investigate missed scans with the responsible letter carrier, who most certainly will not answer the phone once departing the postal premises. Just in case you didn't have enough to do before - well, good luck actually finding your family awake when you get home now.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention - do you actually think you are going to be paid for these interminable hours spent in postal hell? In it's infinite wisdom the Postal Service has decreed that there is more than enough time for a postal supervisor to accomplish all of this massive laundry list in a normal eight hour shift and if you work late it is only because you're too inefficient to get the job done on time. In other words, don't auto asphyxiate yourself waiting for your overtime pay.

You'll be burning the candle at both ends, and probably in the middle too.

You'll be burning the candle at both ends, and probably in the middle too.

Lie, Cheat and Steal

When I said earlier that Postal Management success means abandoning all of the moral values your Momma taught you I wasn't kidding. If you expect to prosper and thrive in Postal Hell and move up to the higher rings of the Inferno you better be willing to throw all of your coworkers under the bus, to shift the blame for your screw-ups by lying through your teeth if necessary, and to do whatever you have to do to ensure that you "make the numbers" for your delivery unit, even if it means doing something illegal.

To prove my point, I cite a recent case here in California in which the manager of a postal facility ordered a custodian to throw away mail that was being stored on the back dock. The custodian wisely refused and called the Postal Inspectors instead, who entered the facility and walked the manager off of the workroom floor. The manager stayed fired for a few weeks but then was reinstated, after which time he received a promotion from Manager to Area Manager. A paid vacation with a promotion waiting at the end - can't beat that! You see, contrary to what Momma told you crime does pay, as long as you have enough fellow criminal cronies in the upper ranks to make sure that you get a really soft landing after your temporary fall from grace.

From a postal management perspective, lying, cheating and stealing is much more than just a fun board game.

From a postal management perspective, lying, cheating and stealing is much more than just a fun board game.

Don't Get Left Holding the Bag

The last thing I want to caution the 204b prospect about is to avoid being used as a disposable pawn by your immediate supervisors and station manager. They will try to pin the blame on you for their malfeasance, and they'll get away with it if you let them. Remember, you are lower than the primordial ooze from which the original amoebas and other gelatinous, slug-like life forms emerged. Who's going to believe you?

As a case in point, I was temporarily fired during one political campaign season for curtailing political mail that had passed the cutoff date and turned into first class. But as those fine gentlemen at Nuremberg said to excuse themselves, I really was only following orders. Prior to this my station manager had been illegally curtailing the political mail for several consecutive days, and it should have set off a red flag when my fellow supervisors decided to abandon me one Saturday and let me run the station by myself. What an opportunity for a slug like me!

The station manager had to make an appearance that day anyway for an employee retirement, and while she was there she instructed me to keep curtailing the piling up political mail so that all the carriers would be off the clock in eight hours. Like a dummy I agreed and I paid the consequences.

A couple of convenient hours after the station manager departed an inspector from the Operations Department showed up and busted me with all of the political mail on hand. I had to go back to carrying mail for a couple of weeks before they called me up to supervising again, and the manager who had actually made the decision to curtail the political mail naturally got a promotion to a bigger facility. Throwing your 204bs under the bus is considered "resourcefulness" by postal standards, and resourcefulness is a valuable characteristic that should always be cultivated and rewarded where encountered.

So learn from my mistakes - be on the lookout, stand your ground, and don't be the sucker left holding the bag.

The holding the bag routine of snipe-hunting isn't just big in Wisconsin; it's also a favorite pastime of postal managers everywhere.

The holding the bag routine of snipe-hunting isn't just big in Wisconsin; it's also a favorite pastime of postal managers everywhere.

Conclusion - No it Wasn't the Carriers

People always assume that I gave up my 204b position because I got tired of dealing with lazy, surly, bad attitude letter carriers, but that is not the case at all. Yes there are a few bad apples in every letter carrier basket, but I'm not exaggerating when I say that interacting with these hard working people on a daily basis was the one part of my job that I did like, and believe it or not I was successful at it. I actually made good numbers, which was why the Area Manager kept sneaking me back in, and I think this proves the rarely implemented school of management thought that if you treat people with respect and demonstrate that you care about them they will bust their butts for you. What the Area Manager did not know was that I was not beating on these people to get them to work hard, but they were doing it on their own because I think they liked me and they wanted me to look good.

So I hope I've given you enough information to make a sound decision on whether postal promotion is the path for you. On the one hand you can worry about your morals, your self respect, and the fate of your eternal soul. But if none of that really means anything and you are willing to shake hands with the devil and do whatever it takes to move up the ladder then - Congratulations! I think you really are postal management material, and I see a cozy throne in the sulfurous pits of postal hell in your future.

Carrot or Stick Approach?


Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 03, 2014:

Thank you sir for commenting. I like to convey a serious message in an entertaining way.

Imtiaz Ahmed from Dhaka, Bangladesh on August 03, 2014:

Mel Carriere I really liked this post. The pictures you given in it are very nice and funny. You edited the hub very nicely. So and UP Vote for you!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on July 31, 2014:

Thank you for that great comment and compliment. You pretty much summed it up with the soul selling part. I voluntarily walked away when I found myself snapping at people and when a manager suggested that writing carriers up should be viewed as a type of recreational activity. I am proud of the fact that in a year and a half I never issued one letter of warning and still I somehow got "good numbers."

Thanks again for reading. I invite you to follow on Facebook and Twitter because I always enjoy learning about the daily lives of letter carriers across the country.

JesssMe on July 31, 2014:

I found your survival kit piece while doing research on a current situation in our facility and I just love your writing style. You describe our current 204b to a "T" and I so want to have her read these. I tease her about how cute it is that she still has those stars in her eyes but needs to lose her morals, dignity and professionalism if she wants to advance. We try to do good work for her but know in the end that making her look like a good boss doesn't help in that regard and only giving up her soul will do it. I intend to read more of your "stuff" when I get home tonight from "the pit" and I think if you were our 204b, we would want to do a good job for you as well!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on May 31, 2014:

You were probably wise to get out because I think post offices everywhere are probably soul-sucking and dehumanizing. Thanks for dropping by!

David Edward Lynch from Port Elizabeth, South Africa on May 31, 2014:

I didn't realize until I read your article how tough it is to be in management in the postal services. I had at least one bad experience working for the post office as a clerk where I live, but I left them after two & a half years.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 09, 2014:

Thank you AudreyHowitt I am glad you enjoyed it. As the singer Morissey sang "I can laugh about it now but at the time it was terrible." Glad you could drop by!

Audrey Howitt from California on April 09, 2014:

Ouch your humor is wicked--and fun!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on April 04, 2014:

Thank you Crafty, it is good to hear from you. Yes it is definitely a corrupt culture, one that definitely needs to change, and it is a lot worse than what I described here. Thanks for reading.

CraftytotheCore on April 04, 2014:

I love the example you give of bailing out the titanic with a shot glass. I know people who work for the post office that are victimized like how you talk about in here, so I know what you are saying.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 21, 2014:

The postal service has all kinds of rules in place to prevent what happened to you but hardly anyone in management pays attention to the rules, except to pay lip service and then delude themselves into thinking they are doing everything right. The real problem is that the supervisor job does not pay well; a letter carrier can make more with overtime, so good people often don't want to do it and we are left with power hungry self promoters. I am really sorry for what happened to you but you escaped from hell and are better off for it.

Yolo on March 21, 2014:

Sir, I really enjoy reading your very truthful and spot on post office stories. I did work for the PO albeit, very briefly. I guess you could say that I do not have thick skin. I was a carrier in a very hostile environment and was talked to like I was a 6 year old child. I'm not going to tell all the horror I went through but I was left with a painful memory of my awful postal career: a torn ligament in my knee that happened as a result of falling from my LLV, while rushing in a frantic pace to finish delivering after getting screamed at over the ph by a sup.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 19, 2014:

Yes Deb, for many people like myself the postal service winds up being a death trap. The pay is just a little too good to motivate you to look for something better. My son was thinking about trying it but I would rather he stay in school, because the job hours are not conducive to going to school. I think you are way better off for not going down this road. Thanks for reading.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on March 19, 2014:

Mel, I had a test score of 87 as a civilian, but I hit the cutoff when they were no longer hiring. It was most likely just as well, now wasn't it? Great article, as it makes me NOT cry about it.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 09, 2014:

Thanks for reading.

Judge on March 09, 2014:

You sound like you need to grow a pair!! Never do anything wrong, even when given an order to do so!! When you go back to craft file a grievance for every penny of OT they owe you. Any local worth it's salt will win that grievance!!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 06, 2014:

Yes I feel the same way but it is very rarely implemented, and only perfectly once.

sheilamyers on March 06, 2014:

Mel: I love that you brought up servant leadership. I think that is a very good example to follow.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 05, 2014:

Thank you Alicia C. It was certainly more fun writing about than it was living it. Glad you could drop in.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 05, 2014:

This is a very interesting report, Mel. It's fascinating - and amazing - to read about your experiences. (I had to look up smh in the urban dictionary, too!)

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 05, 2014:

Yes billybuc my wife doesn't appreciate my saarcasm either, which is why I have to apply it so liberally with my friends and coworkers, and very often unleash it in my writing. Fortunately there are still enough wise people like you who appreciate satire. So as long as one person gets it, I'll keep doing it. Thanks for dropping in.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 05, 2014:

You are correct Sheila Myers that some people need to be beaten with a stick but the vast majority of people if given a set of challenging but realistic expectations will do their best to accomplish them as long as they trust you and feel that you will support them by providing all the tools they need to do the job. There is a popular school of thought called "servant leadership" that I strongly support, which maintains that the manager is there to serve the workers, not the other way around. It is typified by the example of Christ washing the feet of his disciples, a fitting image for this Ash Wednesday.

Thanks for dropping in. I always appreciate you speaking your mind!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 05, 2014:

It bothers me a little that I actually knew what "smh" meant. LOL Maybe I'm hanging with the wrong crowd?

As for the Post Office, I guess I have to wonder how much longer they will be in business...seriously. Mis-management abounds in that governmental agency, but of course that is the definition of a governmental agency now isn't it?

As for sarcasm, my wife is the definition of literal. How well do you think my sarcasm goes over in our household? :)

Great article my friend. Find me on Facebook under Bill Holland in Olympia.

sheilamyers on March 05, 2014:

After reading your hub all I could think of was that if that were me in that position I'd set the speed record for length of time between promotion and being permanently fired. I don't play any of those games. Yes, I've had bosses who got mad when I didn't and I think the only reason they kept me around was because they knew I'd get my work done. With the hypothetical situation that I'd be in this postal position probably the biggest reason I'd get fired is for not getting the work done. I won't work overtime if I don't get paid.

As for your poll, I chose the last answer. In the few instances I was in charge of a group of people to make sure things got done, I'd always use the carrot approach first. I learned quickly some people will take advantage of you if they see you as a softy and those people you have to beat with the stick.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 05, 2014:

Thank you DDE for your nice comments and continued support.

Thank you also Jaye Wisdom for your kind words. It pleases me greatly that you have had a satisfying postal experience. It seems that more and more people are growing dissatisfied with UPS and FedEx, which is why they are trying so hard to put us out of business through underhanded legal methods.

Thank you both again for reading!

Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on March 05, 2014:

First, I want to tell you that I actually enjoy satire, so feel free to cut loose with a satirical hub any time you want to do so! (I'll run interference for you with the don't-get-it commenters.)

Second, I'm sorry you had such a bad experience as a postal supervisor. It's discouraging to read that managers in the USPS would stoop to the behavior you described. I hope that the branch where you worked was the exception rather than the rule. But no one should continue in a job that causes nausea every morning or requires working extra hours without compensation, especially when the assignments are only unnecessary busywork.

That said, when compared to the record of UPS (a company I truly HATE, and that word is not an exaggeration, but my actual feeling), FedEx and other carriers, I think the USPS does a great job. Most mail and packages arrive at their destination without damage or loss. This is probably due to the hard work and accuracy of workroom employees and mail carriers. The counter workers in my local USPS branch are courteous and helpful, I have a terrific local mail carrier and even the branch manager is helpful and nice on those occasions when I need to phone about something.

Since I order a lot online, especially from Amazon (which insists on using UPS), I get a lot of punctured, smashed-in and completely broken open shipping boxes that contain damaged merchandise from improper handling (also known as throwing the boxes repeatedly)--just like the one that was dumped at my front door by a UPS delivery person about an hour ago.

So-o-o-o-o-o....I keep hoping the USPS will survive and looking for vendors other than Amazon that use either the USPS or FedEx (the latter is marginally better than UPS).

Voted Up, Interesting and (since you can't help yourself) Funny


Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 05, 2014:

Wow! Great work here the photos are lovely and somewhat funny too. The insight here is greatly written and expressed and I voted Carrot - Be nice, respectful, reward employees and they will work hard for you.

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