Hark now to the tale of my extremely short-lived career as a letter carrier for Canada Post. I’ll try to keep it entertaining, but if I sense it’s getting gloomy or bitter I’ll throw in some pictures of manatees and whatnot. Everybody loves manatees.
The hiring process
It began with me deciding that instead of fighting the legions of unemployed journalists for jobs in my actual field, I should seek out entry-level positions at companies that seemed worth working for. And so I came to apply as a part-time relief letter carrier for Canada Post.
I’m not sure they understand what “Part-time” means, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The hiring process was lengthy, if not complicated. First step? General skills assessment test. Simple enough questions. Section one, same or different: look at two addresses, say if you think they’re the same or different. Section two, basic math: addition, subtraction, multiplication, light division. Section three, sortation: here’s a number/address, which range of numbers or addresses does it belong to? Section four, memorization: here’s four columns of addresses. Take a few minutes to learn them, and then recall which column each of these addresses belongs to.
The real challenge was the harsh time limits. Early sections only gave you five minutes to complete 25 questions, with points awarded based on number of right answers. That’s 12 seconds per question. I over-thought same/different, and multiplying a four digit number by a two digit number can take more than 12 seconds, so I didn’t finish either of those sections. However, I did well enough on the exam that by the end of the day I’d booked an interview for the following week. I nailed that, and was scheduled for phase three: a physical test and a road test. I passed both (the road test was a close call), and received an offer. A week or so later, I’d start training.
Training breaks down like this. First is four days of learning how to sort and deliver mail, split between book learning and sortation practice. Also tutorials on how to use the PDT scanning devices that track delivery of parcels, registered mail, and fliers. Next, three days of peer training: follow a letter carrier through their day, see what it’s basically like. I helped deliver mail in Ranchlands, right around where my parents lived until not so long ago. Me and my trainer split the route, with me delivering to part and then watching him speed through the next. Maybe that’s what made it seem so doable: I was only delivering part of a route and got to empty mailboxes at the start. Didn’t seem so bad. We were usually done by two. Sure, we never paused for lunch, but having lunch at 2:30 instead of 12 isn’t so bad, right?
After three days of peer training come the exams. A written test, on which you need to score 75%, and a sort test. Sort 120 letters in ten minutes with 99% accuracy to pass.
Or so they said.
Turns out they just wanted to see an improvement in your speed over the week and solid accuracy. Accuracy being ultimately more important than speed, as taking 60 minutes to sort instead of 45 will cost you less time than making a bunch of mistakes and having to fix it while delivering. So only one person actually got all 120 letters sorted with 100% accuracy.
Damn skippy it was me. Clean as a whistle, sharp as a thistle, best in all Westminster, yeah!
The final day of training was defensive driving. Which was entirely common sense stuff. Also boring and forever taking.
That complete, we were now officially on the on-call list as relief letter carriers. Well, those who were left.
Our teacher had warned us, up front, that not everyone in the class would turn out to be cut out for this job. And she certainly wasn’t wrong. The first week was like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Each day we had at least one less person in the class. One person quit during a lunch break. I expected each lesson to start with an Oompa-Loompa song about our latest drop-out. Two left because they were sick, and if you miss even one day of training you have to start over, as you’ll miss too much. One left because she’d expected this to be more of a causal, part-time thing, a way to supplement her income from running her own business, and it clearly wasn’t going to be. One left because he intended to spend much of the winter in warmer climates and thus would have to re-do the training anyway. I never expected to join them: I’m good at sorting, I actually like sorting, and was hoping a more physical job would help me get into better shape. I thought I could handle it.
Late in week one a union rep came to talk to us about the postal workers union we’d have to join. That’s where the horror stories started. Canada Post management types were quick to mention benefits: pay grades, pension, vacation time, etc. Union officials always added a “for now” to any talk of benefits, as the contract is up for negotiation in a few years and the corporation is gunning for that pension plan. When I joined the union, horror stories continued: tales of supervisors out to “break” relief workers, refusing to file for overtime, late hours and hard work. I didn’t let them scare me. I wanted to believe I could handle this job. I don’t like failing, which is weird, because I have so much practice failing at job applications, weight loss, and talking to cute girls at parties that you’d think I’d greet failure as an old friend by now.
On top of all these warnings, I’d booked two job interviews during the training period. Even before day one of work, I was, on some level, looking for an exit strategy. But I remained hopeful. On Tuesday, November 12th, I would start delivering mail on my own.
The Tuesday after a long weekend. A day known to be a heavy mail day. I could have planned that better.
Look, we’re already over 1000 words on this thing and thinking about last week is still making me a little stress-queasy, so we’ll leave it there for now. Later tonight, or maybe tomorrow, we’ll jump into how it all went so very wrong.