For the last six years, Toby Holder has worked as a part-time, rural carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Killeen.
But the contract he signed with USPS turned out to be more than a part-time job, he said, as budget constraints and short staffing created an atmosphere of mistreatment, unsafe conditions and pay issues.
“They treat us like junk mail,” Holder said.
The choice of phrasing isn’t lost on Holder, as the USPS is becoming increasingly reliant on revenue from catalogs, advertisements and other unsolicited items as personal mail declines.
While Postal Service officials in Killeen declined comment, Holder’s claims about pay issues, long hours and unsafe working conditions were corroborated by several other carriers who asked the Herald not to be identified for fear of retaliation. They all told the same story: employees are lured in by the promise of part-time mail carrying, only to be forced to work full time with no benefits and little time off for family, friends and school.
Every source detailed large pay discrepancies, saying supervisors and union stewards paid little attention to complaints and said retaliation against employees who aired grievances is common.
“The post office is stuck with incompetent supervisors who have no business being in that capacity, yet they have the authority to affect our livelihoods the way they do,” Holder said.
PAY NOT GUARANTEED
Holder and the others said it doesn’t matter how much overtime they work; rarely are they paid on time, if at all.
“When you work six days one week and four days in another week in a biweekly pay period at $20 an hour, with overtime, you bring home much more than $626,” Holder said of his paycheck for Nov. 17-28.
With overtime, Holder said the post office owes him in excess of $1,000.
“I worked last week, 42 hours and five minutes, I believe it was, then the week before that I worked 50 hours and 15 minutes, so I had a total of 12 hours and some-odd minutes of overtime, yet I only brought home $626,” Holder said. “Just that 12 hours that I worked with the overtime is half of what I brought home.”
Holder said if employees don’t pay close attention to their check stubs, they won’t notice discrepancies.
“A lot of the time, if you don’t really pay attention, you won’t notice they paid you straight time instead of the overtime,” he said.
Other workers are experiencing the same pay issues, including one woman who is a single mother. She said she was forced to take out numerous payday loans to cover bills and rent.
“I’ve taken out at least three of them,” she said.
“One of them was $1,000 because I had only received a $400 paycheck. I pay child support and I pay $400 a month, so that wasn’t even going to cover my child support and rent and car payment and all of that stuff at the time.”
TIME NOT ENTERED
Another female employee said she thought working at the Killeen post office part-time would be a good opportunity. But it wasn’t long before she was forced to work too much.
“I didn’t sign up for this,” she said. “I’m thinking, ‘Wow, it wasn’t even this bad when I was deployed working seven days a week’ because they gave us Sundays off.”
Serving her country for more than 20 years with multiple deployments was something she said she misses now that the post office is not paying her for all the hours she works, including overtime and regular pay equaling close to $1,000. She said supervisors deserve the blame for not inputting hours worked properly or in a timely manner.
“I had to go downtown and turn in a rural route and then help deliver it. … They didn’t pay me my mileage for using my vehicle for the 76-mile route,” she said. “You’re supposed to get vehicle allowance for using your car on that long route. They wouldn’t pay me for that.”
Another part-time mail carrier, who also spent time in the Army, said he also is still waiting on overtime pay.
“Last week, I know I worked over 40 for sure,” he said. “But, no, I haven’t gotten paid.”
While dealing with the same pay issues as other carriers interviewed for this story, part-time rural carrier Dejanee Hollaway said around Christmastime last year, carriers were given some frightening news.
“Last Christmas, we were told that something happened on a rural route and some carriers got killed. We were not allowed to go out and deliver mail after dark. The cutoff time was 6 o’clock,” Hollaway said. “They scared us up and told us all this information, then the next thing you know, they send us all out after 6 p.m. anyway.”
Post office administrators were probably shaken by the pre-Christmas death of Tyson Jerome Barnette, who was shot in Cheverly, Md., in late November 2013 while delivering mail in the dark, a case that remains unsolved, according to news reports.
In May 2013, police arrested James Wayne Ham of Coldspring in connection with the death of Eddie “Marie” Youngblood, who had just delivered mail to Ham’s residence north of Houston.
It’s not just late nights that concern carriers. On Wednesday, Hollaway was attacked by a dog while delivering mail.
According to Hollaway’s duty status report obtained by the Herald, Hollaway suffered a “strain/sprain” to her shoulder and forearm as a result of the attack. A doctor at the Harker Heights Medical Home said she could return to work Monday after concluding that abrasions on her forearm were beginning to heal.
“Honestly, I don’t feel safe or comfortable knocking on anyone’s door at 9 o’clock at night to deliver a package, driving my own car and not dressed in a postal uniform,” another carrier said.
But pay issues remain the chief complaint.
Another carrier said she is a few months behind on rent because of nonpayment from the post office.
“Thank goodness my (apartment) management is kind of nice … but they can only be patient for so long, and if I get evicted because I’m still waiting on money from the post office, you’re going to have one angry sista,” she said. “I mean, it’s been since August.”
Killeen’s postmaster, who assumed the job in August, declined to comment on the complaints, instead referring the Herald to a Postal Service spokesman who explained the post office pays full-time and part-time carriers differently.
“When they do the evaluation of the route, for a full-time carrier, they evaluate that and it’s all factored in,” spokesman Sam Bolen said of full-time carrier pay. They get one price for a route, regardless of the time it takes to complete it. “But with subs, it’s a little different.”
Bolen said subs are paid per hour, and in an email, said supervisors are responsible for carrier pay.
“With regards to pay, the Postal Service has a process whereby rural carrier payroll is logged each day by their delivery unit supervisor. All employees have been advised to immediately report any pay issues to their supervisor or manager and it will be investigated,” Bolen said in an email. “Prior to employment, potential job candidates are advised in the initial interview as to the expectations of the job, which may or may not include long hours, and the compensation.”
Bolen said many of the recent pay discrepancies are likely because Christmas is the busiest time of year for the Postal Service.
“It’s just the volume,” he said.
While he had little information on specific issues in Killeen, Bolen said most of the carriers are part-time carriers with no benefits and turnover is high.
“The Killeen post office has a 65 percent noncareer-to-career ratio for rural carriers,” Bolen said in an email. “Killeen is in a constant hiring mode.”
And the frustrated Killeen employees say they’re stuck in the middle.
“That’s the really sad thing. The post office has been around since the horse and carriage,” one worker said. “You’d think they’d have it together by now.”