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A mail carrier, post carrier, or postman (sometimes known as a mailman or letter carrier in North America or New Zealand and a postie in Australia, New Zealand) is an employee of the post office or postal service, who delivers mail and parcel post to residences and businesses. The term “mail carrier” came to be used as a gender-neutral substitute for “mailman” soon after women began performing the job.

In the United States, the official label for a mail carrier is “letter carrier”. There are three types of letter carriers: city letter carriers, who are represented by the National Association of Letter Carriers; Rural Letter Carrier, who are represented by the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association; and Highway Contract Route carriers, who are independent contractors. While union membership is voluntary, city carriers are organized near 90% nationally.

City carriers are paid hourly with the potential for overtime. City Carriers are also subject to “pivoting” on a daily basis. Pivoting (unpaid overtime) is a tool postal management uses to redistribute and eliminate overtime costs, often based on mail volume projections from the DOIS (Delivery Operations Information System) computer program. City Carrier routes are adjusted and/ or eliminated based on information (length, time, and overall workload) also controlled by this program – much to the chagrin of the city carrier union.

Rural carriers are under a form of salary called “evaluated hours”, usually with overtime built in to their pay. The evaluated hours are created by having all mail counted for a period of two or four weeks, and a formula used to create the set dollar amount they will be paid for each day worked until the next time the route is counted. Highway Contract Routes are awarded to the lowest bidder, and that person then either carries the route themselves or hires carriers to fulfill their contract to deliver the mail.

City letter carriers typically work urban routes that are high density and low mileage. These routes are classified as either “mounted” routes (for those that require a vehicle) or “walking” routes (for those that are done on foot). When working a mounted route, city letter carriers usually drive distinctive white vans with the logo of the United States Postal Service on the side and deliver to curbside mailboxes. Carriers who walk generally also drive postal vehicles to their routes, park at a specified location, and carry one “loop” of mail, up one side of the street and back down the other side, until they are back to their vehicle. This method of delivery is referred to as “park and loop”. City letter carriers may also accommodate alternate delivery points in cases where “extreme physical hardship” is confirmed [1].

Rural letter carriers typically work routes that have a lower density and higher mileage than those of city letter carriers. They all work mounted routes, leaving their vehicles only to deliver to group mailboxes or to deliver an article that must be taken to a customer’s door. However, now that former rural areas are being urbanized, their routes are growing very similar to mounted “city routes”. Rural letter carriers often use their own vehicles and are not required to wear a uniform. Because of urbanization around cities and because rural carriers deliver mail at less cost to the Postal Service, the Rural Carrier Craft is the only craft in the Postal Service which is growing.

Highway Contract Route carriers work routes that were established with a density of less than one customer per mile driven (some later grow denser, and can then be converted to rural delivery). They are only mounted routes, and all HCR carriers use their own vehicle. These routes are typically found in outlying areas, or around very small communities.

The three types of mail carriers are also hired quite differently. City carriers are hired as Part Time Flexible (PTF) carriers, with benefits. There is normally one PTF for every three city routes, so the job can approach full time on some weeks. As a result, there is normally a large number of applicants for every PTF opening. Rural carriers are hired as Rural Carrier Associate (RCA) carriers, without benefits. There is normally an RCA assigned to each rural route, so they usually work less frequently than city PTF’s. As a result, there are thousands of RCA positions that go unfilled due to a lack of applicants, and are being covered by other RCA’s until hiring improves (see http://www.usps.com/employment/ruralcarrierassoc.htm for the hiring process explained). Highway Contract Route carriers are hired by the winning bidder for that route. They are not United States Postal Service employees, and normally receive lower pay than carriers on city or rural routes.

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