How do I order my uniform if I’m a CCA?

I’ve just com­pleted a new page with a set of instruc­tions to help CCAs under­stand the process involved in order­ing a uni­form with your allowance after pro­ba­tion. It comes com­plete with a print­able M$ Word Doc that can be printed out by your local sta­tion man­ager (assum­ing they’re given access to my web­site, of course. ;) )

CCA Uni­form Pur­chas­ing Instruc­tion Guide and FAQ

 

Is the CCA uniform purchasing program broken?

While doing a swing on a route, I ran into an 80 year old retired postal worker for the Depart­ment of the Post Office in the 1960’s, back when it was an actual cab­i­net depart­ment directly under the exec­u­tive branch. While I was shov­ing advos into a CBU, I asked him: “when did the post office give you your uni­form?” “Within a week”, he replied. That just made me chuckle, because I’m six months into my job and I still don’t have a uniform.

Why not?

CCAs aren’t granted debit cards for uni­form pur­chases. Those debit cards were made for a good rea­son. There are over 300,000 full-time postal car­ri­ers in the coun­try, and we now make up an addi­tional 10%. The scale of bureau­cracy is so mas­sive with­out those debit cards, it means a 1–2 month delay at best. No one is given a set of instruc­tions on all the steps in pur­chas­ing a uni­form dur­ing their ori­en­ta­tion or acad­emy, and so the red tape is ulti­mately per­plex­ing once you’ve set­tled into your job. Instead, CCAs are given an autho­riza­tion form which grants tem­po­rary autho­riza­tion for two weeks to pur­chase uniforms.

I passed my ini­tial hire pro­ba­tion period on July 7th, at which time I am granted $390 dol­lars of allowance to pur­chase my needed uni­form pieces. It is now near­ing the end of August, so why do I still not have a uniform?

  1. Con­fu­sion about the end of pro­ba­tion. I can tell you, we were all con­fused as to when this was sup­posed to be. Even the union pres­i­dent and my sta­tion man­ager both thought it was 90 cal­en­dar days at first. “I don’t know how they could cal­cu­late when the amount of days you worked is” is what one per­son told me. But sure enough, that’s what hap­pened: 120 cal­en­dar days or 90 work­ing days, whichever came first, turned out to be the real length of time. In the end, my work days and cal­en­dar dates worked out to be about the same, so it didn’t mat­ter. It ended up being around 4 months.
  2. No autho­riza­tion let­ter. Even though I fin­ished my pro­ba­tion period on July 7th, it wasn’t until two weeks later that the sta­tion man­ager real­ized I hadn’t got­ten my autho­riza­tion letter.
  3. Lack of info on how, where, and WHAT to buy. Aside from bug­ging my expe­ri­enced cowork­ers, look­ing for qual­ity items that would last me a decent amount of time was hard to find. I had to do my own research to find out who the ven­dors and man­u­fac­tur­ers were. In order to make a wise con­sumer pur­chase, this was impor­tant to me.
  4. An over­whelmed ven­dor staff. I thought I and the PO were the only ones con­fused about this, but due to the influx of newly hired CCAs, the cus­tomer ser­vice dept. of the uni­form ven­dor I was work­ing with was absolutely over­flow­ing with CCA autho­riza­tion let­ters, and under­stand­ably, mine was mis­placed for a week until I called them and prompted them to look for it.
  5. Lack of prepa­ra­tion amongst man­age­ment. It’s been repeated to me since day one that the CCA pro­gram is a new thing, “and we’re all learn­ing.” The con­tract had barely passed arbi­tra­tion a lit­tle over a month before we were hired, so there obvi­ously was a large learn­ing curve for every­one in man­age­ment, not only in regards to uni­forms, but so many other admin­is­tra­tive poli­cies. We’re still work­ing together on solv­ing some of them, too. It didn’t hap­pen prior to the hir­ing, but bet­ter late than never. It would prob­a­bly be a good idea for man­age­ment to now write and issue a new man­ual for han­dling CCA issues, includ­ing uni­form purchasing.
  6. Lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. There seems to be this issue of bad infor­ma­tion being passed from per­son to per­son through word of mouth. This is tied in with the point I just made above. The only way infor­ma­tion would be passed around would be through the grapevine, rather than a clear, con­cise, cen­tral­ized top-down approach.
  7. Doesn’t fit in with the day-to-day rou­tine. Seri­ously, the man­agers are busy enough with daily oper­a­tions to han­dle all of this red tape. I hon­estly don’t think they’re being given the proper tools to han­dle this. In the morn­ings we’re cas­ing mail from the moment we clock in, and by the time we’re done for the day, no one wants to hang around longer than we need to. Office time is at a pre­mium as it is. If we’re stand­ing around deal­ing with the red tape of fax­ing auth let­ters or fig­ur­ing out who has what invoice, that ends up reflect­ing on our station’s per­for­mance and costs the Post Office lots of money.
  8. Sim­ply too com­plex. There are too many steps, too many hands, and too many hold­ing points for the process to make this work any more quickly. Autho­riza­tion let­ters are held by the ven­dor for weeks before being processed and batches of invoices sent to the respec­tive post office sta­tions. I don’t know if it’s a secu­rity issue, or if it’s merely a busi­ness deci­sion not issue out debit cards to CCAs, but I hon­estly can’t see it work­ing for much longer with how it’s cur­rently being handled.

So my ques­tion is: Is this pur­chas­ing pro­gram broken?

What makes a good pair of trousers?

Being in the USPS means going through clothes, and as I men­tioned in the pre­vi­ous post, there are things to look for that will help ensure that what you buy is going to last you the longest it can.

Alright, so for me, func­tion over form is what’s impor­tant. The QUALITY needs to be there, or else it’s crap. Let’s take a look at what makes a good pair of work­ing trousers:

Mate­r­ial. As I’ve already men­tioned, we’re kinda screwed on this end. All that’s avail­able is a basic 100% poly­ester 2-on-2 plain weave. If I had my choice, I’d pick a strong gabar­dine or twill weave, but we don’t have that option. It should be made in part with nat­ural fibers to allow the body to breathe. Dacron is also made of awe­some­sauce. Avoid 100% cot­ton. It wears out too quickly. Rip­stop is also great stuff; I wish they made it for postal workers.

Thread. The seams need to be stitched prop­erly, with good thread. Thread thick­ness should match the cloth. If thread is stronger than the cloth, the cloth will tear. If the cloth is stronger than the thread, the thread will tear.

Stitches should be no larger than 8 stitches per inch—preferably smaller. Look for double-stitching along the pant-leg side-seam and inseam. The pock­ets should be French-seamed to pre­vent wear and fray.

Seam allowances should be serged or cov­ered. This binds the raw edges of the fab­ric and keeps it from fraying.

Crotches should be rein­forced mul­ti­ple times to keep from blow­ing out when you drop your keys or pick­ing up your tubs from the ham­per. Extra credit if the crotch fork is rein­forced with extra fab­ric or interlining.

Bar tacks are repeated stitches in key points to han­dle stress on seams, and should be present on pock­ets, belt loops, rear waist­band seam, fly, etc.

French Flies (or is that free­dom flies?) are the tab with the but­ton that hides within the fly and ensures that the front won’t pop open when sit­ting or bend­ing over. They’re also great for when hit­ting the lavatory.

Waist­bands should have that rub­bery stuff called Tex or Ban-Roll along the inside. This keeps your shirts from slid­ing out. You ARE tuck­ing in your shirt, aren’t you? It’s regulation!

Lin­ing should be present! At least par­tial lin­ing (“cur­tains”) should be there in the “rise” (see below). Lined trousers pre­vent chaf­ing, and help absorb sweat and tox­ins. The lin­ing should be a cot­ton or cotton/Dacron blend.

Siz­ing.

Instead of buy­ing “Relaxed Fit”, save some money and buy a size that’s one larger than you nor­mally take. It’s eas­ier for you to have it taken in than to be let out because the man­u­fac­tur­ers leave lit­tle extra fab­ric (inlays) in the seam allowances. “Relaxed” fit sim­ply means that they use more fab­ric, and pleat or dart around the inseam, rear waist­band and seat.

Unhemmed legs are the best option. We’re buy­ing these online, so it’s hard to deter­mine the inseam for a pair of trousers you haven’t worn yet. Either have some­one hem your cuffs for 10 bucks or do it your­self with a nee­dle and thread! It takes 30 min­utes to do and you can get them exactly to the length you want. Reg­u­la­tion calls for an “unbro­ken” trouser cuff, so take the time and you’ll look great!

Trouser Rise. This is the ver­ti­cal height from the crotch up to the waist­band. The place­ment of waist­band can be any­where from down on the hips up to nat­ural waist. Mod­ern waist­bands are lower than pre-1950 waist­bands. Per­son­ally, I pre­fer a higher waist. Not only does this allow for more room for move­ment, but also less likely to cause strain on the hip­bone with our heavy belt items (and they just keep adding them on, don’t they?) This would be called the “reg­u­lar rise” pants.

Dress. When putting on your trousers, for guys, you need to pay atten­tion to “dress.” Dress is the polite term for describ­ing which leg your gen­i­tals are placed into. In cus­tom tai­lor­ing, the cus­tomer would tell the tai­lor which side they “dress” to, and the tai­lor would make one leg slightly wider near the fork than the other for com­fort. If your gen­i­tals are sit­ting on top of the crotch fork, you don’t have your trousers pulled high enough. Stop tor­tur­ing your­self! Keep your pants off the ground.

 

Things to avoid:

Flex-fit. The type with elas­tic bands are not only more expen­sive but reports are com­ing that due to infe­rior stitch­ing, they’re tear­ing and pop­ping within a cou­ple weeks of being pur­chased. Elas­tic also does not last long peri­ods of time. Plus, we’re wear­ing belts any­way, so the full advan­tages of flex­i­ble waist­bands are wasted unless you’re keep­ing your belt too loose. What’s the point? Save the money.

Plain Waist­bands are not good for what we do! I’ve already seen a cou­ple mod­els that have these, and hav­ing to stuff your shirt into your waist­band just makes you look unprofessional!

Poly­ester! Avoid this stuff. (Yeah, right. We have no other choice right now.) It sticks to the skin when you’re hot, pro­motes chaf­ing, bac­te­ria build-up, blis­ter­ing of the skin, and body odor! I highly rec­om­mend wear­ing under­ar­mour com­pres­sion briefs or full leg­gings to wick sweat and tox­ins away from your body!

Why all the vendors?

It’s been a while since I’ve writ­ten a post. I’ve been too busy deliv­er­ing them. For the past four months I’ve been hik­ing through peo­ples’ yards in 100+ degree weather, being run over by cars and eaten by dogs. All of my per­sonal pairs of pants are torn and shred­ded. I am now depend­ing on the viril­ity of my weight-trainer briefs to pre­vent leg-chafing from the 5-inch slashes in the inner-thighs. Now that I’m past my pro­ba­tion I’ve been given my allot­ment money of $390 to spend on what­ever form of reg­u­la­tion uni­form pieces that I like. In addi­tion, I’ve been put into the unique charge by my sta­tion man­ager to help all the new car­ri­ers find the uni­forms they need, so I’ve been research­ing into ven­dors and man­u­fac­tur­ers to ensure that we all get the best items.

I live in Reno, NV which does not have a sin­gle autho­rized USPS ven­dor local to the area. Our only local store went out of busi­ness two years ago. Since GSA con­tracts are only granted every 5 years this means that until a new con­tract, mail-order cat­a­logs or Inter­net pur­chases are the way to go.

Man­u­fac­tur­ers

There are only three remain­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers that I’ve found that sup­ply the sta­ple shirts and pants. It took a lit­tle bit of inves­ti­gat­ing to find out who they were, but thanks to a NALC-210 Boy­cott list made in 2004, it was made a bit eas­ier. Here they are in alpha­bet­i­cal order:

Brookfield/US Uni­forms (Sub­sidiaries of Cin­tas Corporation)

Elbeco

Fech­heimer (Fly­ing Cross Division)

That’s it.  There are oth­ers for other jack­ets, hats, shoes, acces­sories, etc., but for the basic pants and shirts, that’s it.

Brook­field and US Uni­forms is a rather odd sit­u­a­tion. The two are inde­pen­dent union-run sub­sidiaries both owned by Cin­tas, a non-union-based com­pany. Both of those sub­sidiaries hire out another com­pany to act as an exclu­sive in-house man­u­fac­turer, which means that all the rest of the ven­dors listed below are in fact car­ry­ing only Elbeco and Fechheimer!

So, why all the vendors?

Seri­ously, if you type in “USPS Uni­form” into Google, the num­ber of ven­dors sell­ing the same thing is staggering!

  • http://www.skaggspostal.com/
  • http://www.mypostaluniforms.com/
  • http://www.postaluniformdiscounters.com/
  • http://www.postaluniformsdirect.com/
  • http://www.postaluniformstore.com/
  • http://www.postalwarehouse.com/
  • http://www.postaluniformsonline.com/
  • http://www.bestbuypostaluniforms.com/
  • http://www.lyonsuniforms.com/
  • http://www.postaluniforms.us/
  • https://www.uniformbonus.com/
  • http://www.postaluniformwearhouse.com/
  • http://www.tomsuniforms.com/
  • http://www.postaluniforms1.com/

etc, etc, etc, etc.…

And they all appar­ently sell the same two manufacturer’s goods.

Tex­tile Mills and Materials

The U.S. domes­tic tex­tile mill indus­try is in bad shape. Mills are going out of busi­ness left and right. All the sturdy breath­able cloth is all gone. No gabar­dines or twills are left. No wool, no Dacron. The only avail­able, approved trouser mate­r­ial left is your basic 2-on-2 weave from 100% poly­ester. Yuck. All the above listed man­u­fac­tur­ers get their mate­r­ial from the same hand­ful of approved mills. Qual­ity is going down the drain. We’re left with pre­ma­ture wear and tear, and car­ri­ers are spend­ing lots more of our own money on replace­ment uni­forms after our allowance is spent. Now, I’m not blam­ing the gov­ern­ment, the reg­u­la­tions, or even the post office for these things. I’m sure that they’re doing what lit­tle can be done to deal with this unfor­tu­nate cir­cum­stance we’re in. But that means we have to think sharp about how we spend our money and make the best of a bad situation.

In my opin­ion, the man­u­fac­tur­ers need to get in the busi­ness of sell­ing directly to us. There would be three great look­ing sites that are sim­ple to use, and all they need is a “Add to cart” button.

Boonie Hats (or “Sun” hats)

New employ­ees are only given a very small amount of union allowance money to spend, so being fru­gal with your dol­lar is extremely impor­tant! One of those things could be your hat, which is manda­tory for all car­ri­ers en-route.

The USPS now allows “Sun Hats” to be part of reg­u­la­tion uni­forms. Tra­di­tion­ally, these hats are called boonie hats or bush hats. These hats have been bat­tle tested in mil­i­tary cir­cles for nearly a cen­tury. They’re multi-functional with a wide brim (adapt­able with an inter­nal wire to allow for mul­ti­ple con­fig­u­ra­tions to pro­tect against sun and rain. They usu­ally hold a secret inter­nal pocket on the top inner sur­face for maps, head-cooling prod­ucts, etc., and have a use­ful util­ity braid around its base to max­i­mize its car­ry­ing poten­tial. It comes with an adjustable strap to ensure that it stays on your nog­gin in windy con­di­tions. It’s light-weight, is usu­ally made in water-resistant mate­r­ial and stitched in such ways that con­form to military-specs.

Here’s one video from a trusted source that gives some details as to the con­struc­tion and value of this hat. You can check out other videos and reviews of the boonie hat eas­ily by doing a video search.

Over­all, it is prob­a­bly the most inex­pen­sive and use­ful all-terrain hats, and it is now avail­able for us to use on our daily trav­els. More­over, there is a plethora of com­pa­nies that sell this hat online for a mere $7 – $19 dollars…

… so why is it that the sanc­ti­fied uni­form sources sell this hat for upwards of $37.00??

A quick google search reveals other sources that cur­rently make this hat for a cheaper price. Here are some of the first sites that I came across:

http://www.armynavyshop.com/prods/rc5826.html#.UUK4YleyJJY

http://www.militaryuniformsupply.com/boonie-hat-navy-blue

http://www.jesseshunting.com/osCommerce/product_info.php/products_id/2156

http://www.militaryuniformsupply.com/tru-spec-adjustable-boonie-hat-navy-blue

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=02H-000T-00038

The prices for these hats vary, depend­ing on the mate­r­ial, the con­struc­tion, the fea­tures, and other such attrib­utes, but all of these are def­i­nitely cheaper than the one with the USPS logo on it, and they all come in navy blue.

Alright, so what’s to do about the logo patch? Sim­ple! Buy one for $2 dol­lars! Here’s some links for the proper logo:

http://www.mypostaluniforms.com/product/N1023846.htm

http://www.postalproducts.com/product/N1023827.htm

Spend 5 to 10 min­utes sewing or iron­ing your logo your­self onto the hat, and there, you’ve just saved between $10 – $20 dol­lars on just one item alone. Who cares if the items aren’t redeemable? Spend your union allowance money on more hard to find and dif­fi­cult items!

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