Wanted: 20,000 mail carriers in time for Christmas

People fill out applications, including Vanessa Wassenaar, left, in Bellflower
People fill out applications in Bellflower on Thursday, including Vanessa Wassenaar, left, in hopes of finding employment with the U.S. Postal Service, which is hiring 20,000 new workers.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

It was three shipping days before Christmas, and Santa’s blue-clad helpers were hard at work spreading holiday cheer at the Bellflower post office.

Pickup was imminent. Mail carriers in fuzzy hats and crisp polyester shorts scurried to and fro. Inside, a line of procrastinators in ugly sweaters and nubby fleece pajama bottoms waited to post their nick-of-time Christmas gifts and eleventh-hour holiday cards.

“It’s a lot of last-minute cards,” said Postmaster Tania Cason, as she greeted her regulars. “We start as early as 6 a.m. delivering packages, and keep rolling until 8 or 9 at night.”

But Cason wasn’t in the lobby that morning to glad-hand. She was recruiting new would-be Christmas elves, offering $19.33 an hour plus benefits to join the North Pole’s government arm — otherwise known as the United States Postal Service.


Like employers across the country, the USPS has struggled to shore up its workforce amid a historically tight labor market. In an attempt to attract younger carriers, it boosted wages and stuck QR codes on its mail trucks to advertise open jobs. Recently, branches such as Bellflower have begun hosting pop-up job fairs amid a nationwide effort to recruit 20,000 new workers.

Technically, these are temporary roles, akin to those offered by UPS, FedEx and Amazon to meet the holiday rush. But after surging pandemic demand and a chaotic reorganization threw the agency into crisis in 2020, the Postal Service has moved to convert its temp workers into career employees.

Since 2021, tens of thousands of such “pre-career” workers have been reclassified into permanent roles.

Now, tens of thousands more are being recruited to join them.

“We used to hire just seasonally,” said agency spokeswoman Natashi Garvins. “[Now] we’re going to continue to hire until we can’t hire anymore.”

That effort is slated to continue long after competitors cut their holiday staff.

“As many employers are letting go at the end of the season, we’re hiring,” Garvins said.

Among the hopefuls who gathered around the tree in Bellflower’s P.O. Box alcove Thursday were young mothers, college students and experienced package handlers.

“I love being outside, and I’d love to work in my community,” said Vanessa Wassenaar, 25, a stay-at-home mother of two who’d found herself with spare time. “It’s a good career to start off because you can grow within the postal service.”


Indeed, the regular hours and federal benefits give the post office an edge in a market still dominated by just-in-time scheduling and unpredictable paychecks.

By hiring beyond the holiday season, the agency hopes to avoid the cascade failures of 2020 and the viral crush of last winter.

“Last year this time was horrific,” Cason said. “New Year’s Eve I was here by myself,” with the rest of branch management and half the Bellflower letter carriers sidelined by illness.

But even as they recruit, postal workers are fast aging out of the job.

According to the National Assn. of Letter Carriers, one of the labor unions representing postal workers, as of 2018 the average letter carrier was 48.

That could be a boon for younger recruits like Andrew Alcaraz, 20, a package handler at UPS who was still wearing the rival brown and gold when he came in to apply.

“I always wanted to be a driver,” he said.

But to land that role at UPS would take years of seniority — and patience he doesn’t have.


“This position, you [convert to a career hire] automatically after two years,” said Marisol Rivas, postmaster at the Bell Gardens branch nearby, who joined Cason and Lynnwood Postmaster Joyce Roelants at the event. “Maybe sooner than that, because we have a lot of carriers retiring.”

Still, it takes more than a stout heart and strong calves to carry the mail.

“People don’t expect how physically difficult it is,” said Scott Bunnell, 62, a retired mail carrier who decided to return after feeling pinched by inflation. “This time of year, it’s like getting up and doing a marathon every day.”

Bunnell agreed with the supervisors that delivering the mail had been a good job. He also knew what they weren’t telling fellow applicants.

Their problem wasn’t hiring. It was retention.

“You’re out in the sun, you’re walking all day. I walked seven to 10 miles a day with overtime,” he said. “Mine was one of the biggest classes, 35 people. Within six months, I was the last one left.”

In addition to strength, stamina and ergonomic shoes, a job with the postal service requires a clean record, two years of safe driving, and a selective service registration.

Speeding tickets and car wrecks disqualified some hopefuls on the spot. Younger men were scolded for failing to register for the draft.


Art student Timaan Meeks, 21, thought he met the requirements, but he was ambivalent. He’d spent the fall checking ballots for the L.A. County Board of Elections and was hoping to find something more stimulating without losing the perks of a government job.

Cruising the neighborhood as a letter carrier seemed more exciting. But he had reservations.

“We don’t really want to be mailmen,” he said of his generation. “Nobody’s trying to work at the post office.”

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night would stay him from the swift completion of his appointed rounds, he felt sure.

But Fido might be a problem.

“I don’t like dogs,” Meeks said.

The uniform was also a concern.

“The shorts are kinda cool. But that bucket hat, that button up? That’s not fly,” he said. “It’s gonna look weird on my head.”

Other zoomers were more pragmatic.

“I hear it has good benefits — I was thinking of me and my son,” said Kaitlynn Carmichael, 20, a single mother who’d hoped to snag a city carrier assistant job. “I need two years of driving experience, but I just got my license last year.”


Garvins encouraged her to apply again in a few months.

“Please do not give up,” the postal worker implored her. “Don’t forget us in June.”