San Diego mailman behind “All the Dogs Want to Kill Me” is fired for “AtDWtKM”/talking about being a mailman.
On Wednesday, June 29th, Frances Meana called me into her office and told me to shut the door. She flipped a couple stapled pieces of paper to me and asked, “What can you tell me about this?”
I should have been more nervous: with more than 25 years of postal-service duty under her belt, the Point Loma Post Office branch manager possesses the intensity that comes from persevering in an industry content on giving 59% at any given time. She talks fast, to the point and doesn’t sugar-coat anything. Simply, she’s a force to be reckoned with.
So I should have been more nervous, but honestly, I had spent that day carrying 8 hours of mail with no assistance, no lunch and one brief bathroom break. To put that in perspective, most the routes at Point Loma are clocked at around 5 hours, which carriers are expected to complete within the 8 hours they’re on the clock—the extra time allotted is for travel, loading/unloading, lunch, breaks, etc. 8 hours of mail is a helluva lot to carry in one day, and I was so tired that I could’ve faced the postmaster himself with the same resign.
And honestly, I wasn’t too surprised at what was on the papers in front of me.
Flashback to the beginning of May. I had taken some pictures of vicious dogs on my routes and threw them online under the title “All the Dogs Want to Kill Me.” It became somewhat of an internet sensation, featured on Gawker, NPR, and MSNBC.
When Kinsee Morlan of the San Diego CityBeat asked if she could also do a write-up, like anyone who is at all interested in attention and recognition, I jumped at the chance. Plus, it was going to be the first time my story was IN PRINT—which, despite what you hear from Kindles and iPads, is still a big deal.
Apparently, the Postmaster also reads print.
It was Morlan’s story that was looking back at me from those stapled pieces of paper.
“Now, Ryan I like you, I think you’re a hard worker, but you understand that the Postmaster of San Diego is furious.”
“Really?” I asked. I actually thought it was a very well-written, flattering article that raised awareness of the mailman/dog relationship while highlighting some of the hardships that comes with the job—a true human interest story. I thought, at the very at least it put carriers in a good light for a change, rather than showing them as lawn-defecating, sexual-offenders.
“I just want you to know that you’re ‘not scheduled’ until we get word from the postmaster,” said Meana.
Looking back, I wish I had taken a lunch that day.
What was so bad about the article?
After THREE unpaid weeks, they called me in to give me this letter (IMHO, a little discourteous considering they excused me from work so fast… but I wouldn’t want to incriminate myself further with my prejudicial complaining):
Secondly, I never signed a non-disclosure agreement. There’s nothing that prevents us from talking to the press in the USPS Labor Manual (a fact supported by a USPS spokesperson in this article). I performed the interview on my lunch break, which according to the National Agreement, lets carriers pursue any personal activity so long as it doesn’t accrue any cost to the USPS.
Also, I obviously don’t think the work I do is “slave labor”… although it has a better ring than Submissive, Under-paid, Under-benefitted Labor with Minimal Vacation Time and No Sick Leave Makes You Look Great! I’m trying to move units here, people! But I’ll come back to that.
Management lumps this violation into this vague, blanket charge:
The charges go on: Yeah, I didn’t have spray on that one day. But two days prior (Monday, June 27th), a safety-inspection blitz of the 92106 zone caught at least five carriers in violation of basic safety measures on the street (including a carrier who never carries spray for animal rights reasons), all of whom are still working. This violates article 16 of our little friend the JCAM regarding Just Cause discipline: Is the rule consistently and equitably enforced?
But here’s the thing that really got me in trouble, explained by Area Manager Victor Martinez, who I know is enraged because he didn’t respond to my friend request. His “main problem” with me is the statement I said about “no incentive to deliver mail faster,” according to the investigative interview (conducted one week after I was let go).
Apparently, what reeeally ground their gourd, what reeeally ruffled their tail feathers, what reeeally burned their britches (and the main reason I was removed from my job, my livelihood) was a case of hurt feelings. Martinez’ “main problem” with me does not appear on the official NOTICE OF REMOVAL. He even went on to call me – and I kid you not – an “injustice to the postal service”… which is going on the cover of every book I write from now on.
So I guess I’m the first one who’s ever complained about their job. I would argue that the “no real incentive to deliver mail faster” statement is a watered-down version of what you hear every morning among the other carriers, or that it’s a statement neither new nor revelatory—in fact, it’s the same sentiment shared and written about nearly 40 years ago by Charles Bukowski in his memoir Post Office, although that reference may be lost on Martinez who doesn’t seem like the literary type.
So What Gives?
I know, right? Surely, the government wouldn’t unjustly, unconstitutionally, and ridiculously fire a hard-working employee with an impeccable track-record for a couple silly statements written in a local alt-weekly, right?
I have theories. They begin with this flyer.
It’s no secret that the postal system is in trouble. As mentioned in Morlan’s story, post offices across the country are closing down, Saturday delivery’s on the chopping block and flat-sorting machines are being brought in to cut routes. Yet Regular Carriers, for the most part, still have a pretty sweet gig: good pay, good health coverage and a retirement plan that can actually support retirees.
As a transitional employee (TE), I have none of that. Hence the “slave labor.”
Sure, I make good money, but it’s about $10-$15 dollars less than what a regular makes. My job description states that my position will NEVER lead to a career position. I have no health-benefits or retirement. I am expendable. TEs can’t/don’t complain in fear of losing their jobs. It was only a couple weeks prior that one of my supervisors asked “Bradford can you do this for me?” and then added, “As if you can say no, right?”
I believe management is phasing out all the expensive regular carriers quickly and filling the roles with under-benefited laborers similar to my position. As more regulars disappear, the standard luxuries – health-coverage, retirement… lunch breaks — will disappear alongside them.
And as these positions become the norm, it would be damaging to present them as unflattering. Or even worse, have those entering into the positions complain about it, so of course management needed to make an example of me.
Well, good riddance… right?
Not really. Despite the hardships mentioned in the article, letter-carrying has been one of the best jobs I’ve had. I’ve also had the opportunity to work with some really great carriers and supervisors. You would have to be an idiot not to miss working outside every day, especially in a beautiful place like San Diego.
And my termination couldn’t have come at a worse time (I swear I’m almost done Erin Brockoviching), because this whole fiasco happened less than three months before my wedding. It’s a modest affair, but the absence of those three months’ income will certainly put a strain on the celebration/honeymoon, which I’m afraid unemployment won’t be able to cover.
I do realize that this may seem like a cheap exploitation of sentimentality for personal gain, but I’m not asking for handouts—just support. The National Association of Letter Carriers is still fighting to get me back to work, and perhaps writing this is going to put me in a deeper hole, but it feels important. If the union gets my job back, then everyone forgets everything and TEs are still (and always will be) treated unafairly. There won’t be any discussion.
Please feel free to reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to help me, I very humbly point you to purchasing my book. I think it’s a great book and I love it, and it’d mean the world if you bought a copy (or two). Even if you don’t read it, the financial aid will show your support and help me with those little things like eating and paying rent.
Or… you could hire me. But only if you’re not an insecure baby prone to going off the handles while defending your dying industry. In that case, don’t bother.