How well must a man know his neighbor before he sheds a tear? Does a man possess humanity merely because he walks upright and speaks well? What is the gauge, the calculus, the determining factor, as to whether human beings have advanced? Is it the extent of mechanization, how fast we can travel, how beautiful our technology is designed? If a man fails to shed a tear, is he more advanced because he possesses less of an ability to exhibit his emotions? When does a man stop representing humanity? Or, shall we alter the named designation, and perhaps reorder our self-conception of what it means for us to “be human”?
From, Questions to Ponder in Human Terms
Postal Workers hold a unique position in the workforce. While the timeless image of the postman walking with a friendly smile may be a fading memory, replaced by community mailboxes situated at the end of the cul-de-sac, curbside mailboxes (and various other methods to distance any intrusion into the antiseptic lives of each neighborhood), the daily contact with the U.S. Postal Service still pervades. Despite electronic methods of replacement, email, texting, tweeting, and multiple other means of communication, the letter which arrives is still sorted, processed, transported and delivered by people – those who work at the U.S. Postal Service.
The five minutes out of the week, month or year when the average person sees a Postal employee – perhaps the Window Clerk when tax time comes around; perhaps to send something overnight; or to renew a passport – whatever the reason, such limited contact fails to betray the extent and toll of how physical and stressful the U.S. Postal jobs are. Considering the medical impact upon one’s neck, back, shoulders, knees, wrists, etc., it is important to recognize the type of positional duties that the Postal Clerk, Letter Carrier, Mail Handler, various Motor Vehicle Operators, Heavy Equipment Operators, Expediters, or Mail Processing Clerks, among many other craft employees, must engage in on a daily basis. The wear and tear upon the physical body; the daily stresses and mental toll resulting from time pressures, shortage of workers, overtime requirements, difficult interpersonal engagement between Supervisors, Managers and Craft employees; customer services communications; and the daily pressures of rigorous work in a fast-paced, competitive environment. Criticism abounds these days about the Neanderthal status of the U.S. Postal Service, and some of it may be justified. Yet, whether justified or not, it has nothing to do with the type of physical, emotional and psychological impact that the daily positional duties have upon individual lives.
Or, take the Postmaster of a small postal facility – the one who must fill in for the craft employees, work the customer service window, and perform the daily administrative duties in repetitive, unrelenting fashion on a daily basis, with reduction and attrition of the workforce, without replacement workers to fill in for absences, sick leave, annual leave, etc. Or the Rural Carrier who must twist and turn one’s upper body, grasping, turning and reaching to place bundles of mail into mail boxes, mile after endless mile. It is, indeed, a miracle that the human body can withstand such repetitive wearing upon muscular tissue, bone structure, nerve endings, layers of cartilage, etc., and year after year, be able to allow the individual to perform the progressively deteriorating repetitive functions which are required by the Postal Service. We haven’t even mentioned the constant walking, mile upon mile, of the letter carrier; the walking up and down stairs, steps; of entering and exiting a motor vehicle repeatedly throughout the day.
Federal Disability Retirement benefits are a needed benefit for all Postal employees, precisely because of the unique type of physical, emotional and psychological requirements of the craft, supervisor and managerial positions at the U.S. Postal Service. The human toll is something which the public, casual, limited and fleeting in its contact with the Postal employee, is unaware of, and unable to comprehend in its magnification of repetitive tasks throughout the course of processing, distributing and delivering of that piece of mail which arrives at the doorstep.
One might pose the query as to why the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act, administered by the Office of Worker’s Compensation Program (OWCP) under the aegis of the Department of Labor, is not sufficient to adequately compensate Postal employees when they are injured on the job. It may well be. But the problem is that not every medical condition can be causally proven to be related directly to the human toll resulting from the daily, repetitive, pounding deterioration by the type of Postal work and duties required. Consider the following hypothetical: A Mail Handler who is 48 years old and who has been working at his job for 25 years is moving a piece of furniture at the direction of his spouse. In the course of lifting, he feels a sudden “pull” in his back, and is forced to sit down. The piece of furniture remains in the middle of the room somewhat askew, evident that a job has been left incomplete. The MRI reveals a disc protrusion at L5-S1, with multi-level disc degeneration, chronic pain, and radiating pain and numbness extending to his extremities. The emergency room notes reflect the history of the medical occurrence: “…while moving heavy furniture…” But is that truly the causal connection? Did the 25 years of constant bending, lifting, reaching, pulling, pushing, grasping, etc., have no medical significance, no cumulative effect? The doctor could not relate the multi-level disc degeneration and chronic pain to his work. OWCP, in any event, would deny such a claim outright, asserting unequivocally: “No causal connection could be found between your medical condition and the nature, origin and type of medical injury from which you suffer.”
In real life, the Postal Worker who suffers from the hypothetical as described above, would have no viable alternative means to securing a livelihood. The U.S. Postal Service, under the present National Reassessment Program, would refuse to accommodate such a Postal Worker, and would send him/her home, stating that, “After a full review, it has been determined by the District Reasonable Accommodation Committee that no suitable work can be found within the limitations imposed by your medical condition, and therefore the U.S. Postal Service is unable to accommodate you.”
Such hypotheticals are not mere imaginary flights of fancy; they in fact occur, and all too frequently. That is why Federal Disability Retirement is a needed benefit for the U.S. Postal Worker. Federal Disability Retirement is a benefit, however, which must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, that the medical condition suffered by the Postal Worker, whether under FERS or CSRS (A) prevents him or her from performing one or more of the essential elements of the job, (B) that the medical condition is expected to last for a minimum of 12 months or more, and (C) that, whether suffered on or off the job, related to the job or not, the Postal Worker has a minimum of 18 months of Federal Service under FERS, and a minimum of 5 years of Federal Service under CSRS.
Federal Disability Retirement benefits pays a Postal Worker 60% of the average of his or her highest-3 consecutive years for the first year of annuity, then 40% every year thereafter, until age 62, at which point the annuity it recalculated based upon the total number of years of service (including the years one is receiving Federal Disability Retirement benefits). It is, however, a benefit which must be proven, and as such, is not an “entitlement”, but a benefit which must be secured by sufficient medical evidence, adequate knowledge of the governing laws, and a clear nexus between one’s medical condition and the essential elements of one’s job.