Guest post by Mike Shue.
Mike Shue is a recently retired rural carrier.
Click below to see all of Mike Shue’s Guest Posts.
Sunday December 1st, 2013 - An Open Letter To All Rural Carriers
For me, today is the day that all rural carriers who chose to make a career of the Postal Service strive to achieve- retirement. It is something I have looked forward to for some time now. I have been blessed with what I consider three great adventures in my life; the U.S. Navy, 31+ years of service as a volunteer firefighter/EMT, and the Postal Service. While in the Navy, I had the good fortune to see much of this country and a lot of the world, by my calculations, something like 27 different countries. With the fire department, I estimate I answered between 2,500- 3,000 calls. And since 1987, I have been proud to call myself a rural mail carrier. (My almost 6 years of Navy time gives me my 30 years of service.)
This last journey has been a long hard one, filled with blood, sweat tears, of freezing snowy winters and long hot summers, of busy highways and dry dusty roads. When we have days on end of constant rain, you ask, “where is the end?”; when we go for weeks without rain, we ask “where is the rain?” We encounter customers each and every day, some whom we barely know, some whom we get to know but at times want to forget, and some who are like family to us. But above all, they are “our customers”. And I have been fortunate to have had only 4 accidents on the route. Two were my fault, no serious damage or injuries, and the other two I was outside the vehicle and the car was struck by someone else and were considered industrial accidents.
The service has changed tremendously since I started. At the beginning, we had to case everything by hand, no automation whatsoever. There were no EDIT books and therefore no printed labels, so you had to make all labels by hand on a typewriter. In the winter, a whole week would sometimes go by without seeing my house in the daylight. (Some folks say it’s still that way!) You would get so much mail that some days you couldn’t force anymore in the case and you would have to leave some for the next day. When I started, my office had 18 routes,17 regular and 1 auxiliary, and 17 city routes. We had 6 flat sorting and 10 letter sorting cases. Today we have 35 regular routes and 2 auxiliary, and 21 city routes, and are down to 1 flat and 2 letter sorting cases. But the one thing that has remained constant with the service is change. It seems that every time we turn around, something is being changed, sometimes for the good, but many times for the not-so-good.
Although this sometimes is a point of differing opinions, I have been a proud member of the NRLCA since shortly after I became a carrier. I do not agree with everything the union does (many times nowadays, I disagree more than agree), but I have steadfastly remained a loyal supporter. While the union is far from perfect, I would not want to consider the option of working without one. Being a member has allowed me to travel to many state and national conventions these many years. Between my Navy travels and going to national conventions, I have visited 45 of the 50 states; I still have to go to Alaska, Hawaii, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Michigan. I now have those on my bucket list.
I did some rough calculations on how much I have worked on the route over these many years. I can’t figure exactly as I never kept those kinds of records, but my route has remained at pretty close to 40 miles throughout the years and I never once had to take LWOP. And I did not figure in my time as an RCA (Please don’t crucify me here, but I only spent 2 ½ years as an RCA before making regular. I was a beneficiary of the changeover from RCR to RCA. Those who were here during that time will probably know what I’m talking about.) There were about 8400 calendar days during my time as a regular and when you subtract Sundays, 235 holidays, 588 days of annual and 235 days of sick leave, that leaves me about 6,048 actual work days. Counting 58 miles per day (40 on the route and 18 to and from home), that means I have driven about 350,784 miles hauling the mail. That’s over 14 times around the earth and from here to the moon and half-way back. Kind of mind-blowing, isn’t it?
I have watched many fellow carriers come and go over these many years. They have been truly like family to me. And as with most families, some you dearly love, some are OK, and some you just tolerate. But nonetheless, they are still family. And we laugh, we cry, we rejoice, we get mad, we praise, we curse, and feel all the other emotions life has to offer, but we do it as a family. It is truly sad when we hear about a retired carrier passing on, but it hurts even more when we lose one who is still working, someone who perhaps you just spoke to the day before. I have lost 3 co-workers in this manner. Scott, Rodney, Julie, I miss you guys.
To those who will still come to work tomorrow, and the next day, and so on, I encourage you to keep at it. It is becoming a much more difficult task each and every day. As I stated before, there are more and more changes on the horizon. Sunday delivery, the possible end of Saturday letter and flat delivery, major changes to our benefits, who knows what else? Perhaps you are going to follow me in just a short period of time. Maybe you are still several years from getting to this point. Or perhaps you haven’t even started the clock yet. Whatever the case, keep up the good fight, be sure to do your job correctly and above all safely, but also be sure that the Postal Service does theirs also.
So what am I going to do with my time now, you may ask? For starters, I will really enjoy the holidays (I mean really, really enjoy) for the first time in a long time. I have a lot of things to do around the house that I’ve been putting off. As most of us do, I have hip and/or knee problems that I must address before I can do a lot of physical things. I have always enjoyed hiking and camping, and want to get into backpacking. Yeah, I know, those who have seen me are snickering due to my acreage as Mork from Ork used to say to Orson, but hopefully that will be remedied also. I hope to do a lot of traveling (my wife is joining me in retirement at the end of the year). But most of all, I have a brand new grandson whom I’m really going to enjoy spending time with. Finally, although I still will be around, it will be mostly as a casual observer and will have to make myself refrain from answering work questions. You guys have also become like another family to me and I will miss helping you out and offering my not-so-sage words of wisdom. I will close with the old sailor’s farewell; “May you all have fair winds and following seas.”