Carrying the mail
A career in public service
What is a letter carrier?
A letter carrier is a worker employed by the United States Postal Service (USPS), a U.S. government-owned corporation. A letter carrier is thus a government worker, serving the public directly, and enjoying the recognition, appreciation and trust of the citizens whose mail they carry.
Letter carriers are ambassadors of the federal government—for many Americans, the face of their letter carrier is the face of government. Unlike many other government employees, the letter carrier’s job brings them into personal contact daily with members of the community. How the carrier acts helps determine how citizens view the Postal Service.
Free communication—the freedom to easily exchange ideas and information—is a central foundation of our democracy. Every day, the mail links individuals and organizations throughout the country, binding our large and diverse nation together. Letter carriers fulfill a crucial function by safely and efficiently moving that mail.
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What are a carrier's duties?
Most letter carriers engaged in city delivery sort, bundle and then deliver mail addressed to homes and businesses on an assigned route. The average city carrier arrives at the post office at about 7 a.m. They must deal with the day’s mail, which has already been divided for each letter carrier route. The mail consists of letters, circulars, magazines, catalogs and small packages. The carrier’s first task is to "case" any mail that has not arrived at the post office already arranged in delivery sequence—putting it into slots in a sorting case arranged by address.
After casing the mail, the carrier either places it in trays in delivery order or bundles it with rubber bands. Then the carrier can begin their route, delivering and collecting mail. Most carriers deliver mail from Postal Service vehicles and carry all of the day’s mail with them. Other city carriers deliver on foot. Their bundles of mail are transported by truck to relay boxes along the route. A letter carrier carries a maximum of 35 pounds in a shoulder satchel, delivering one load of mail and then picking up more at the relay box, until the entire route is delivered. Some carriers roll satchel carts to deliver the mail; they can handle more weight at one time.
Except for a half-hour lunch break and two 10-minute rest breaks, the carrier works steadily until all of the mail is delivered. While out on the route, the carrier works independently, without direct supervision. The average route has over 500 delivery stops, although this figure varies widely depending on the route’s location and volume of mail. Routes in small towns, for example, would have fewer stops than those in an area with many large buildings. City carriers delivering on routes whose customers regularly receive large amounts of mail would not have as many stops as those working on routes with a low volume of mail.
While out on the route, the carrier must do more than simply put mail in mailboxes. Some types of mail require special handling. For example, carriers must get signatures to confirm delivery of such items as registered, certified and insured mail. The carrier also collects postage-due and cash-on-delivery (COD) fees. If a customer is not at home, the carrier leaves a notice indicating where the special mail or parcel can be picked up.
When all the mail is delivered, the carrier returns to the post office to turn in the mail collected from street letter boxes, homes and businesses, along with any receipts and money. Once they have punched out on the post office time clock, the working day is over. Letter carrier routes should be set up so that office work and mail delivery can be completed in eight hours—usually split between two to three hours of office time and five to six hours of delivery time. Many mail carrier routes, however, frequently require overtime work.
Not every city letter carrier delivers mail door-to-door. Some have specialized jobs such as delivering parcels exclusively or only collecting mail from letter boxes. Others are routers, and case mail all day in the post office. Relay drivers take sorted mail out to relay boxes, where other carriers pick it up and deliver to the appropriate address.
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What are the wages and benefits?
Letter carriers’ wages and benefits have been achieved through collective bargaining by their union, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC). All city carriers are free to become members of the NALC, and more than nine out of ten choose to join.
The NALC negotiates a National Agreement on behalf of all letter carriers that guarantees their wages, benefits, working conditions, and rights on the job. The Agreement contains job security provisions, a grievance procedure to ensure fair treatment, holiday and leave benefits, and many other worker protections.
All letter carriers begin their employment with the postal service as part-time flexible (PTF) employees, working a variable schedule. Some PTFs work fewer than 40 hours per week; others may work lots of overtime. Normally, after a few years, carriers become full-time regulars with a fixed 40-hour-per-week schedule. How long someone remains a PTF varies tremendously depending on the community the carrier serves—some become full-time workers after a few weeks, others wait 10 years or more. Because the mail is delivered six days a week, some carriers have to work on Saturday. These carriers have another day off during the week.
Due to NALC’s collective bargaining achievements, a newly-hired letter carrier earned $17.91 per hour as of August 30, 2008. The National Agreement also provides a regular schedule of salary increases. In approximately 12½ years, a carrier reaches the top of the salary schedule, which stood at $25.36 per hour as of August 30, 2008. Cost-of-living (COLA) adjustments help protect carrier earnings from inflation. All carriers earn time-and-one-half for overtime work (in some circumstances, double-time), and full-time regulars earn premium pay for work performed on holidays.
Letter carriers enjoy secure retirement plans administered by the U.S. government, along with health benefits and life insurance.
The job of a rural letter carrier job is organized differently than that of a city carrier. A different union, the National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, has negotiated a contract for rural carriers. Anyone wishing more information about working as a rural carrier should contact:
National Rural Letter Carriers' Association
1630 Duke Street
Alexandria VA 22314
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What are the qualifications?
In order to become a letter carrier, you must be at least 18 years old, a U.S. citizen or have permanent resident alien status, and possess a current driver’s license. Every candidate must pass a physical examination and take a standardized test (USPS Exam 473) which evaluates reading and memory skills. A sample clerk-carrier test can be found in most public libraries. USPS publication 60-A, Test 473 - Orientation Guide for Major Entry Level Jobs includes sample test questions.
Carriers must be honest and reliable because they are responsible for the safe passage of the mail. Good interpersonal skills are needed, as the job demands constant interaction with the public. Carriers answer questions, handle complaints and explain Postal Service products and services to their customers. They must be able to cope with the stress caused by a high volume of work.
Letter carriers must enjoy working outside. They need to be generally healthy, with considerable endurance. An average carrier spends five to six hours every day working in the open, often walking several miles under extreme weather conditions. They should also have the strength to load and unload parcels weighing up to 70 pounds.
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How do you apply?
Each local post office is responsible for hiring its letter carriers and other postal employees; there is no central location for applications.
To apply, contact your local post office to find out the date and time of the next written test in your area. The USPS website provides additional information about the employment process, including a schedule of exams by state.
After taking the test and receiving a score, you will be placed on a register of eligible applicants. The register is ranked according to test scores, so the better your score, the greater your chances of being hired. If you are not satisfied with your test result, you may retake the test. Only your highest score will be placed on the register.
If a letter carrier position becomes open, the local postmaster picks the successful applicant from the top three scores on the register. Before being hired, the selected candidate then must pass a physical examination.
In recent years, the demand for letter carrier jobs has far exceeded the number of openings—especially in larger metropolitan areas. Competition is keen. Interested applicants must be prepared to wait at least one to two years before being offered a position as a letter carrier. Because of the high demand, the average age of a newly-hired letter carrier is over 30. Your local post office can advise you of the prospects of obtaining a letter carrier job in your area.
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|HOW YOU CAN GET MORE INFORMATION
Requests for one or more free copies of the pamphlet, Carrying the Mail, should be sent to the following address:
100 Indiana Ave. NW
Washington DC 20001-2144
Additional information about being a letter carrier, and other careers in the postal service, can be found in most public and school libraries, and through state employment offices.
|Other online sources include:
|Occupational Information Network.
Occupational Network Information [O*Net]
|US Department of Labor.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
|US Postal Service. A Great Place to Work for
City Carriers [Publication 60-B]
|US Postal Service. Welcome to USPS Employment
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© National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO