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Nature of the Work
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Sources of Additional Information
(D.O.T. 209.687-014; 222.387-050; .587-018 and -034; and .687-022; 230.363-010, .367-010; 239.367-018; and 243.367-014)
* Those seeking a job in the Postal Service can expect to encounter keen competition because of the large number of qualified applicants.
* Jobs as postal clerks and mail carriers offer attractive salaries, a good pension plan, and job security.
* Few people under the age of 25 are hired as career postal clerks or mail carriers.
Each day, the U.S. Postal Service receives, sorts, and delivers millions of letters, bills, advertisements, and packages. To do this, it employs about 856,000 workers. Almost 3 out of 4 of these workers are either mail handlers or clerks, who sort mail and serve customers in post offices, or mail carriers, who deliver the mail.
Clerks and carriers are distinguished by the type of work they do. Clerks are usually classified by the mail processing function they perform, whereas carriers are classified by their type of routecity or rural.
Postal clerks at local post officessometimes called window or counter clerkssort local mail for delivery to individual customers; sell stamps, money orders, postal stationary, and mailing envelopes and boxes; weigh packages to determine postage; and check that packages are in satisfactory condition for mailing. These clerks also register, certify, and insure mail and answer questions about postage rates, post office boxes, mailing restrictions, and other postal matters. They also may help customers file claims for damaged packages.
About 350 mail processing centers throughout the country service post offices in surrounding areas and are staffed primarily by clerks and mail handlers. Mail handlers unload the sacks of incoming mail; separate letters, parcel post, magazines, and newspapers; and transport these to the proper sorting and processing area. In addition, they may load mail into automated letter sorting machines, perform postage canceling operations, and rewrap packages damaged in processing.
After letters have been put through stamp-canceling machines, they are taken to other workrooms to be sorted according to destination. A growing proportion of clerks operate optical character readers (OCR's) and bar code sorters. Optical character readers "read" the ZIP code and spray a bar code onto the mail. Bar code sorters then scan the code and sort the mail. Because this is significantly faster than older sorting methods, it is becoming the standard sorting technology in mail processing centers.
Other clerks, who operate older electronic letter-sorting machines, push keys corresponding to the ZIP code of the local post office to which each letter will be delivered; the machine then drops the letters into the proper slots. This older, less automated method of letter sorting is being phased out. Still other clerks sort odd-sized letters, magazines, and newspapers by hand. Finally, the mail is sent to local post offices for sorting according to delivery route and delivered.
Once the mail has been processed and sorted, it is ready to be delivered by mail carriers. Duties of city and rural carriers are very similar. Most travel established routes delivering and collecting mail. Mail carriers start work at the post office early in the morning, where they spend a few hours arranging their mail in delivery sequence and taking care of other details. Recently, automated equipment has reduced the time needed to sort the mail, allowing mail carriers to spend more time delivering mail.
Carriers cover their routes on foot, by vehicle, or a combination of both. On foot, they carry a heavy load of mail in a satchel or push it in a cart. In some urban and most rural areas, they use a car or small truck. Although the Postal Service may provide vehicles to city carriers, most rural carriers use their own automobiles. Deliveries are made house-to-house, to roadside mailboxes, and to large buildings, such as offices or apartments, which generally have all the mailboxes on the first floor.
Besides delivering and collecting mail, carriers collect money for postage-due and c.o.d. (cash on delivery) fees and obtain signed receipts for registered, certified, and insured mail. If a customer is not home, the carrier leaves a notice that tells where special mail is being held.
After completing their routes, carriers return to the post office with mail gathered from street collection boxes, homes, and businesses. They turn in the mail receipts and money collected during the day and may separate letters and parcels for further processing by clerks.
The duties of some city carriers may be very specialized; some deliver only parcel post while others collect mail from street boxes and receiving boxes in office buildings. In contrast, rural carriers provide a wider range of postal servicesin addition to delivering and picking up mail, they sell stamps and money orders and accept parcels, letters, and items to be registered, certified, or insured.
All carriers answer customers' questions about postal regulations and services and provide change-of-address cards and other postal forms when requested. In addition to their regularly scheduled duties, carriers often participate in neighborhood service programs in which they check on elderly or shut-in patrons or notify the police of any suspicious activities along their routes.
Postal clerks and mail carriers are classified as casual, part-time flexible, part-time regular, or full time. Casual workers, hired for 90 days at a time, help process and deliver mail during peak mailing or vacation periods. Part-time flexible workers do not have a regular work schedule or weekly guarantee of hours; they replace absent workers and help with extra work as the need arises. Part-time regulars have a set work schedule of fewer than 40 hours per week. Full-time postal employees work a 40-hour week over a 5-day period.
Window clerks usually work in clean, well ventilated, and well lit buildings. They have a wide variety of duties, frequent contact with the public, and rarely work at night. However, they may have to deal with upset customers and stand for long periods of time, and they are held accountable for the assigned stock of stamps and postal funds. Depending on the size of the post office in which they work, they may also be required to perform some sorting as well.
The working conditions of other postal clerks can vary. In small post offices, mail handlers use handtrucks to move heavy mail sacks from one part of the building to another and clerks may sort mail by hand. In large post offices and mail processing centers, chutes and conveyors move the mail, and much of the sorting is done by machines. Despite the use of automated equipment, the work of mail handlers and postal clerks can be physically demanding. These workers are usually on their feet, reaching for sacks and trays of mail or placing packages and bundles into sacks and trays.
Mail handlers and distribution clerks may become wearied with the routine of moving and sorting mail. Many work at night or on weekends because most large post offices process mail around the clock, and the largest volume of mail is sorted during the evening and night shifts. Workers may experience stress as they process and deliver ever larger quantities of mail under tight production deadlines and quotas.
Most carriers begin work early in the morning, in some cases as early as 4 a.m., if they have routes in a business district. A carrier's schedule has its advantages, however. Carriers who begin work early in the morning are through by early afternoon, and they spend most of the day on their own, relatively free from direct supervision. Overtime hours may be required during peak delivery times, such as before holidays.
Carriers spend most of their time outdoors, and deliver mail in all kinds of weather. Even those who drive often must walk when making deliveries and must lift heavy sacks of parcel post items when loading their vehicles. In addition, carriers always must be cautious of potential hazards on their routes. Wet roads and sidewalks can be treacherous, and each year numerous carriers are bitten by dogs.
The U.S. Postal Service employed 297,000 clerks and mail handlers and 332,000 mail carriers in 1996. About 90 percent of them worked full time. Most postal clerks provided window service and sorted mail at local post offices, although some worked at mail processing centers. Although most mail carriers worked in cities and suburban communities, 48,000 were rural carriers.
Postal clerks and mail carriers must be U.S. citizens or have been granted permanent resident-alien status in the United States. They must be at least 18 years old (or 16, if they have a high school diploma). Qualification is based on a written examination that measures speed and accuracy at checking names and numbers and the ability to memorize mail distribution procedures. Applicants must pass a physical examination and drug test as well, and may be asked to show that they can lift and handle mail sacks weighing up to 70 pounds. Applicants for jobs as postal clerks operating electronic sorting machines must pass a special examination that includes a machine aptitude test. Applicants for mail carrier positions must have a driver's license, a good driving record, and receive a passing grade on a road test.
Applicants should apply at the post office or mail processing center where they wish to work in order to determine when an exam will be given. Applicants' names are listed in order of their examination scores. Five points are added to the score of an honorably discharged veteran, and 10 points to the score of a veteran wounded in combat or disabled. When a vacancy occurs, the appointing officer chooses one of the top three applicants; the rest of the names remain on the list to be considered for future openings until their eligibility expires, usually 2 years from the examination date.
Relatively few people under the age of 25 are hired as career postal clerks or mail carriers, a result of keen competition for these jobs and the customary waiting period of 1-2 years or more after passing the examination. It is not surprising, therefore, that most entrants transfer from other occupations.
New postal clerks and mail carriers are trained on the job by experienced workers. Many post offices offer classroom instruction. Workers receive additional instruction when new equipment or procedures are introduced. They usually are trained by another postal employee or, sometimes, a training specialist hired under contract by the Postal Service.
Window clerks and mail carriers must be courteous and tactful when dealing with the public, especially when answering questions or receiving complaints. A good memory, good coordination, and the ability to read rapidly and accurately are also important. Mail handlers and distribution clerks work closely with other clerks, frequently under the tension and strain of meeting dispatch transportation deadlines.
Postal clerks and mail carriers often begin on a part-time flexible basis and become regular or full time in order of seniority as vacancies occur. Full-time clerks may bid for preferred assignments such as the day shift or a higher level nonsupervisory position as expediter or window service technician. Carriers can look forward to obtaining preferred routes as their seniority increases, or to higher level jobs such as carrier technician. Both clerks and carriers can advance to supervisory positions.
Those seeking a job in the Postal Service can expect to encounter keen competitionthe number of applicants for postal clerk and mail carrier positions is expected to continue to far exceed the number of openings. Job opportunities will vary by occupation and duties performed.
Overall employment of postal clerks is expected to increase more slowly than the average through the year 2006. Despite efforts by the U.S. Postal Service to provide higher levels of customer service at their window and counter operations, the demand for window clerks will be moderated by the increased sales of stamps and other postal products by grocery stores and other retail outlets, as well as the use of electronic communications technologies and private delivery companies. As for other postal clerks, more mail will be moved using automated materials handling equipment and sorted using optical character readers, bar code sorters, and other automated sorting equipment. Despite the increase in the use of productivity increasing machinery, the expected increase in mail volume will require some additional clerks.
Conflicting factors also are expected to influence demand for mail carriers. Despite competition from alternative delivery systems and new forms of electronic communication, the volume of mail handled by the U.S. Postal Service is expected to continue to grow. Population growth and the formation of new households will stimulate demand for mail delivery. However, increased use of the "ZIP + 4" system, which sorts mail to the carrier route, and other automated sorting equipment should decrease the amount of time carriers spend sorting their mail, allowing them more time to handle longer routes. In addition, the Postal Service is moving toward more centralized mail delivery, such as the use of more cluster boxes, to cut down on the number of door-to-door deliveries. These trends are expected to increase carrier productivity. Employment of mail carriers is expected to increase about as fast as average for all occupations through the year 2006.
Jobs will become available because of the need to replace postal clerks and mail carriers who retire or stop working for other reasons. However, the factors that make entry to these occupations highly competitiveattractive salaries, a good pension plan, job security, and modest educational requirementscontribute to a high degree of job attachment. Accordingly, replacement needs produce relatively fewer job openings than in other occupations of this size. In contrast to the typical pattern, postal workers generally remain in their jobs until they retire; relatively few transfer to other occupations.
Although the volume of mail to be processed and delivered rises and falls with the level of business activity, as well as with the season of the year, full-time postal clerks and mail carriers have never been laid off. When mail volume is high, full-time clerks and carriers work overtime, part-time clerks and carriers work additional hours, and casual clerks and carriers may be hired. When mail volume is low, overtime is curtailed, part-timers work fewer hours, and casual workers are discharged.
In 1996, base pay for beginning full-time postal clerks who operate scanning and sorting machines was $24,599 a year, rising to a maximum of $35,683 after 14 years of service. Entry-level pay for window clerks and clerks in retail outlets was $26,063 a year in 1996 whereas those with 14 years of service earned $36,551 a year. Entry-level pay for full-time regular mail handling clerks ranged from $21,676 to $22,944 a year in 1996.
Experienced, full-time, city delivery mail carriers earn, on average, $34,135 a year. Postal clerks and carriers working part-time flexible schedules begin at $12.82 an hour and, based on the number of years of service, increase to a maximum of $18.07 an hour. Rural delivery carriers had average base salaries of $35,000 in 1996. Their earnings are determined through an evaluation of the amount of work required to service their routes. Carriers with heavier workloads generally earn more than those with lighter workloads. Rural carriers also receive an equipment maintenance allowance when required to use their own vehicles. In 1996, this was approximately 36.5 cents per mile.
Postal workers enjoy a variety of employer-provided benefits. These include health and life insurance, vacation and sick leave, and a pension plan.
In addition to their hourly wage and benefits package, some postal workers receive a uniform allowance. This group includes those workers who are in the public view for 4 or more hours each day and various maintenance workers. The amount of the allowance depends on the job performedsome workers are only required to wear a partial uniform, and their allowance is lower. In 1996, for example, the allowance for a letter carrier was $277 per year, compared to $119 for a window clerk.
Most of these workers belong to one of four unions: American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO; National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO; National Postal Mail Handlers Union, AFL-CIO; and National Rural Letter Carriers Association.
Other workers whose duties are related to those of postal clerks include mail clerks, file clerks, routing clerks, sorters, material moving equipment operators, clerk typists, cashiers, data entry operators, and ticket sellers. Others with duties related to those of mail carriers include messengers, merchandise deliverers, and delivery-route truckdrivers.
Local post offices and State employment service offices can supply details about entrance examinations and specific employment opportunities for postal clerks and mail carriers.
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