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. 😉 )
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.
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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
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.
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!
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.
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)
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!
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.
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:
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:
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!