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‘This Christmas’: The story of how a Chicago postal worker and Donny Hathaway created a holiday classic

It’s that time of the year again – we’re in middle of the holiday season, with Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations and parties and the quiet stillness of long Winter nights. The Post Office will hit its peak mail period and postal workers are bracing themselves as they are grinding out long overtime hours and high volume workloads. Most everyone who loves Christmas music will agree that THE great iconic black song of the holiday season IS Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas.” There is so tremendous richness, depth and beauty to this song and I am posting it here because I want people to know that “This Christmas” was written by a Chicago postal worker, Nadine McKinnon. Nadine would often to write lyrics and sing songs to her co-workers to keep from getting bored during the daily grind at the Post Office, and she eventually was able to take her song to Hathaway. The rest, as they say, is history…  So during this holiday season I’d like to recognize something beautiful and positive coming from a postal worker – something that has touches the hearts of millions of people every year as we celebrate the wonder of Christmas.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/music/ct-ent-this-christmas-1221-story.html

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By Christopher Borrelli
Chicago Tribune
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There is a moment every Christmas season when Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas” brings water to my eyes.

It doesn’t happen with the Chris Brown version (though many a millennial will insist, disturbingly, that it’s the definitive version). And have you ever heard the John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John cover? It generates tears for other reasons. But on the Emotional Resonance Holiday Scale, the Hathaway original lands a singular blow. It’s almost stealthy in its effect. For years I didn’t see this coming, now I see it’s inevitable: Late in the season, long after exhaustion has set in, just as I’m convinced Christmas is no longer worth the hassle, “This Christmas” seems to waft from the walls.

The rest is clockwork.

A surge of strings, a blast of horns, Hathaway’s honeyed delivery:

And THIS! CHRIST! MAS! / Will be! / A very special CHRIST! MAS!

For me-eeeeee, YEAH!

Cue the waterworks. When it’s over, I often sit back and say out loud like a crazy person: “The best Christmas song.” Not “White Christmas,” not “Blue Christmas.” THIS! CHRIST! MAS!

Apologies for interrupting your holiday, but somebody needs to address this. In fact, Chicago-based music writer Aaron Cohen, finishing up a social history of soul music in Chicago (out in 2018 from the University of Chicago Press), told me, “Well, actually, I consider it the first great Christmas song.”

Lawrence Ware, co-director of the Center for Africana Studies at Oklahoma State University, who recently listened to “This Christmas” and its cover versions for 48-straight hours for a Slate story, said: “ ‘This Christmas’ is the best — it’s original, it comes distinctly from the black experience and it feels like you’re hearing it for the first time, every time.”

See? Me, this guy in Oklahoma, Aaron Cohen and probably Olivia Newton-John agree: “This Christmas,” greatest Christmas song ever.

“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” nail the melancholy; Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” has the carefree silliness; and Stevie Wonder’s “Someday at Christmas” gets the heart-tugging plea for peace.

Only “This Christmas” captures it all — and a bit of sex.

That the history of the song is nearly as rich — full of promise and longing and loss — is the garland on the tree. That “This Christmas” is also a Chicago song — written by a Chicagoan, performed by Chicagoans and recorded in Chicago — is the star at the top.

Its history speaks to a Midwestern experience in ways you likely never realized. It was written during the Great Blizzard of 1967 by a postal worker with Nat King Cole on the brain, singing to herself and her co-workers to pass the time, soaking in the boredom of sorting mail as Christmas carols are being piped into the office all day.

By the time it was recorded in 1970, intentions had changed: Hathaway wanted “This Christmas” to be the first pointedly black Christmas carol — “a perpetual black standard,” said Ric Powell, Hathaway’s old friend and business partner. Hathaway’s reputation was ascending then, and now, 47 years later, as music writer Emily Lordi puts it, “for an artist to cite Donny Hathaway as an influence signals a kind of understanding, not necessarily embraced by a white music-listening public, of feeling and virtuosity.” Hathaway’s ambitions, and vulnerabilities, are heard in Frank Ocean, Justin Timberlake, Common, Amy Winehouse. And yet Hathaway himself remains overlooked, his legacy uncertain.

Which is nothing new.

Even in 1979, when Hathaway died under murky circumstances, “This Christmas,” now his most popular song, was not mentioned in either his New York Times or Ebony obituaries; the Tribune didn’t even run an obit. The song, like Hathaway, was a cult item, and had fallen into obscurity. Or perhaps, slumber. As Jesse Jackson eulogized at his funeral, geniuses die young but “get there faster, their impact penetrates, goes deeper.”

Arguably, aside from “This Christmas,” these days the best-known thing about Donny Hathaway may be the way that he died. Late on a January evening in New York, after a dinner at the home of singer Roberta Flack, with whom he had performed his biggest hits, Hathaway returned to his hotel on Central Park. What happened next will likely never be entirely explained: Hathaway probably removed safety glass from a window then double-bolted the door. Then, apparently, he threw himself out the window. He fell 15 stories and landed on a second-floor extension. He left no note or will. His manager told the Times only a few days later that Hathaway would not have committed suicide.

His history said differently.

Hathaway was born in Chicago. At three, he was sent to live in St. Louis with his grandmother, Martha Pitts, a renowned Midwestern gospel singer and strict guardian. He was raised in the church and considered a prodigy, performing as “Donny Pitts, the Nation’s Youngest Gospel Singer.” He studied music at Howard University in the 1960s, where he built a reputation as a music nerd, a forward-thinking arranger as comfortable in classical as soul. (Cohen said Hathaway was active in classical study groups long after college.) He played a while in Powell’s jazz trio but moved back to Chicago, to serve as the in-house wunderkind producer/arranger/composer/songwriter/musician at Curtis Mayfield’s Chicago studio on South Stony Island Avenue. “Except Donny eventually felt Curtis wasn’t using his talents fully,” Powell said. Yet by the time Hathaway signed with Atlantic, he had built up so much goodwill from the Chicago soul community — he often did arrangements for free, Cohen said — his first album was a kind of local showcase.

Released in the summer of 1970, “Everything Is Everything” contained “The Ghetto,” his then-ubiquitous jam that would — until “This Christmas,” decades later — be Hathaway’s calling card. Like much of the album, it took a step forward and back simultaneously, seeming “to mock the very concept of the treacherous black ghetto,” Lordi writes in “Donny Hathaway Live,” her recent monograph on the artist’s 1972 live album.

His debut was ambitious, covering Nina Simone’s “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” and capturing the era’s push for self-determination and Black Power pride without straying far from prayer, all propelled by Hathaway’s moody organ. It suggested new directions for soul music (later expanded by Wonder, who cites Hathaway as an influence). Lordi says that Hathaway became a “proto black singer/songwriter at a moment when black male artists were not doing that — if he was expanding the possibilities of the black male, he was also saying ‘This is my own thing.’”

“This Christmas,” then, might seem a strange follow-up.

For starters, a Christmas song is what a musician tends to record once a career is well-established, a novelty number that (should luck work out) turns into a perennial piggy bank. But in 1970, Hathaway — involved in civil rights politics at Howard, and active in Jesse Jackson’s social justice group Operation PUSH — regarded “This Christmas” as a chance for an Afrocentric take on the Great American Christmas Songbook, a genre then dominated by composers like Irving Berlin and Perry Como (with the occasional mainstream standard from such African-Americans as Nat King Cole and Eartha Kitt).

That said, Hathaway hadn’t intended to record a Christmas song. The song itself was written three years earlier.

Nadine McKinnor, a Chicago postal worker who kept a notebook full of lyrics, would jot down songs as they came to her. McKinnor, who is now 76, lives in Chatham. She said she didn’t have civil rights in mind, and though people hear sex — Hang all the mistletoe / I’m going to get to know you better / This Christmas — she doesn’t hear more than flirtation.

“I loved (Cole’s) ‘The Christmas Song’ and was trying to capture the swirl of music, department store windows, lights on the South Side — Chicago at Christmas,” McKinnor said. “It’s like I’m talking about a love affair with the atmosphere of the holiday. My kids were little then, I was out shopping for toys, enjoying the mood. It’s a romance with the season.”

The line about “Fireside blazing bright” was inspired by the two fireplaces she would sit in front of, shuttling between the homes of her divorced parents. And the line “Gonna get to know you better”? Inspired a bit by slight folk-pop group Spanky and Our Gang, which you might remember from the 1968 AM-radio earworm “Like to Get to Know You.”

She had never heard of Hathaway.

She was hoping Andy Williams would record the song. But a boyfriend at the time who was doing interior design at Hathaway and Powell’s offices overheard them discussing a need for new material; he recommended McKinnor, who offered them a few songs.

“This Christmas” was recorded in early fall at a studio (no longer there) on Ontario Street. “Watching Donny work was like watching a designer,” McKinnor remembers, “someone who weaved threads and colors, though here, sounds and chord changes.”

Hathaway and Powell produced the song. Musicians included such Chicago staples as guitarist Phil Upchurch, saxophonist Willie Henderson and trombonist Louis Satterfield (who later joined Earth, Wind & Fire). Hathaway, who played keyboards and bass on the song, brought a hand-drawn sketch of the song’s architecture. Chicago Symphony Orchestra members provided strings. The jaunty bridge — dun-dun-dun duh-duh dun dun dun duh-duh dah — came from the theme to “The Magnificent Seven,” and Hathaway’s improvised call to “Shake a hand, shake a hand” came straight out of his gospel days.

When Jerry Butler, at the time a hot soul singer (now longtime Cook County Board commissioner), heard about the song, “Let’s say I had doubts. In those days you had maybe two weeks to play a Christmas song, and if you were writing to make money — a lot of people weren’t recording Christmas songs in the spirit of the holiday — considering the promotion and the cost of recording, it just seemed unnecessary. But then again I didn’t think the world needed Stevie Wonder’s ‘Happy Birthday,’ so I have been wrong.”

The result, however, said Lordi, is Hathaway at his peak:

“It gets him on the rise, with a striver’s sensibility. He’s going to pull out all the stops, in a three-minute holiday single — it’s funky but a love song in a way, with strings, horns, and the vocal is sweet. It’s quintessential ambitious Donny — it’s him against the world. Remember, it’s not a very special Christmas for us. It’s a very special Christmas for me ”

Except Hathaway never did get comfortable with a pop career.

At a time when the soul ideal was the sexy confidence of Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes and Al Green, he was self-conscious, insecure. He was heavy-set and referred to himself as a pear. “I think because he was raised in the church he had been told all the time that playing worldly music would send him to hell,” Powell said. “It affected him. He was always apologizing for just being in the world.” He would record a few smash hits with Flack — with whom he became synonymous — including “The Closer I Get to You” and “Where Is the Love.” But after a few more albums and one great live record — none of which made it higher than No. 18 on the Billboard album charts (and rarely broke the top 20 on the R&B charts) — Hathaway slipped away from new solo records.

Accounts of Hathaway from the 1970s describe him as haunted, unhappy, depressed. He lived a while in the LaSalle Towers Apartments near Division Street; neighbors told stories of him leaning out of his 17th floor window to talk with the birds. He passed in and out of mental-health facilities, eventually being diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He worried often and loudly about white people stealing his sound. In her book, Lordi argues that paranoia has a long history of being used against black people, to suggest they are overreacting. She decides, even with his illness, his fear was a “prophecy.”

At a time in pop history infamously defined by pretense and excess — when a white band like Fleetwood Mac could spend a year on a record — Hathaway was accused by Atlantic of taking too much time in the studio, Powell said. “The truth is they wanted him part of a duo (with Flack) and wasn’t sure if he was commercial enough; after his nervous breakdowns they put him on hold for a while.”

He died at 33.

His Ebony obit called him a “has-been.” Every time I hear “This Christmas,” I listen for a note of agony that must be there. But it isn’t.

The other day McKinnor met me at a Starbucks near her home. She wore a knitted beret, gray dreadlocks and, on her T-shirt, a picture of “Bartlett’s Familiar Black Quotations.” (“This Christmas” is in it, alongside the lyrics of Bob Marley.) She said she heard the song in the dentist’s office the day before; the day before that, it came on at a lunchtime reunion with old high school classmates in Hyde Park.

Like the rest of us, she hears “This Christmas” constantly.

“I do wonder,” she said, “do you think they play it on the space station?”

Hathaway recorded only two of her songs: “Take a Love Song” (included on his second album) and “This Christmas,” which initially was a flop, charting only on a special Billboard Christmas song count-down (reaching No. 11). McKinnor, who had long left the post office, moved to Los Angeles and was a receptionist for various corporations.

But the song remained obscure — outside of black communities.

By the mid-1990s, Hathaway was a cult influence on a new generation of thoughtful, black singer/songwriters, from Lauryn Hill to D’Angelo. After “This Christmas” was included on a reissue of an old record of soul Christmas classics, the cover versions started coming, most notably from Brown, who recorded it for the 2007 holiday comedy “This Christmas.” Last year, the band Train had a No. 1 (Adult Contemporary) with its version; the year before that, Seal had his own No. 1 cover.

In 1998, McKinnor — previously credited as co-writer with Hathaway on the song — came to a settlement with Warner Bros. and Hathaway’s estate (which jointly hold the rights); she is now also credited as co-publisher on the song. Long retired from her office desk days, she said she makes around $70,000 annually on the song’s royalties.

That’s one good thing to come from the endless covers of “This Christmas,” by Usher, Destiny’s Child, Lady Antebellum, Pentatonix, Mary J. Blige. Lalah Hathaway, Donny’s oldest daughter and a multiple Grammy winner, recently recorded her own version for Spotify. “It’s almost a rite of passage, especially for black singers,” said Ware.

He recently ranked several dozen covers on Slate — no surprise, the original was No. 1 — after a student tried to convince him the Brown version was better. “I’m like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” Ware said, “but he was arguing so passionately. I thought ‘I’’m a scholar. I’m going to sit down and listen to them all and decide this for once.’ ”

And of course, now he’ll never be able to listen again?

“Oh, I’ve already listened again. Christmas to me is three songs: ‘Christmas in Hollis’ (Run DMC), ‘Christmas in Harlem’ (Kanye West) and ‘This Christmas’ — but really there is nothing greater than ‘This Christmas.’ I don’t know, man. It just calls my name.”

cborrelli@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @borrelli

 

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“Going postal,” and “murder by proxy” – a mirror reflection of our society

This documentary about the phenomenon of “going postal” and other mass shootings breaks my heart as I watch it. Having worked at the Postal Service for 33 years, it’s hard to face… Nonetheless, I would like to encourage everyone – postal workers, friends, family, the general public, managers, supervisors, policy makers and politicians – to watch “Murder by Proxy: How America Went Postal” from beginning to end. It gives a clear picture of the dysfunctional, difficult work environment at the United States Postal Service and how it affects workers – and sometimes can pushes certain employees to the edge of their rope. This documentary focuses in particular on the Thomas McIlvane postal shooting in Royal Oak, Michigan on November 14, 1991 and examines the aftermath of the shooting, as political leaders and the community try to rebuild their lives and discuss the problems that led to the shooting. The documentary gives voice to workers experiences and it raises important questions about how the work environment and a harsh management system can subsume postal employees. It is hard for the community that knew him – particularly postal workers – to grapple with the shootings, while also understanding the very human pressures that McIlvane was facing and the terrible treatment he received from management. But we also have to ask some general questions about all mass shootings – like Columbine and Virginia Tech – and how they effect our society as a whole.  This documentary is a good start.

Suicide and the toxic environment of the U.S. Postal Service

Like myself, Dr. Steve Musacco worked atthe U.S. Postal Service for more than 30 years and lost a good friend, a fellow worker, who committed suicide. In addition to my good friend who started with me at the Post Office in May 1980, my brother also worked at the Postal Service and he committed suicide as well. Dr. Musacco is a psychologist and a licensed counselor and he claims the Postal Service is a “toxic work environment” and of course, I agree with him. He mentions dysfunctional work systems, unrealistic goals and production targets as well as bullying tactics by management as some of the factors contributing problems at the Postal Service. He is absolutely spot on in his analysis, and I describe my personal experience with these very problems in my book, “The Truth Beyond Going Postal: Surviving the Torture in the United States Postal Service.” I had to face workplace problems as well as personal challenges, going to counseling, overcoming problems with alcohol and saving my marriage in the process of coming to terms with my 33 years at the Postal Service. Hopefully, people can learn from my experience.

The U.S. Postal Service is a Toxic Work Environment

Dr. S. Musacco - Beyond Going Postal

by Dr. S. Musacco

Prior to my retirement from the USPS, at a former district I worked for, there were three suicides within a two year period that I concluded were contributed to in significant part by how these employees were treated in the workplace. The third employee, a city letter carrier, fatally shot himself in a postal jeep and left a letter stating that he could no longer take the job. The night before he committed suicide he told his wife he did not know if he would be able to handle his job anymore. How do I know? His wife told me this one day after his suicide. He was one of the best employees in the office. The District Manager and I interviewed his coworkers after his death, and they stated he would urinate in a bottle while on delivery route for fear he would not meet an artificial deadline set by postal management. During the interviews, one of the postal supervisors told the District Manager and me that the day before the suicide she gave a letter to all the city letter carriers in the station, noting that any future over time used for their routes would be considered unacceptable performance. The suicide at the Gastonia postal facility was the second since December 2005.

Many people have asked: Why is there so much stress and workplace tragedies in the U.S. Postal Service? The answer to these questions is because the postal culture embraces and reflects core values that center on achieving bottom-line results with little or no regard for employee participation, respect, dignity, or fairness. Additionally, there is little or no accountability for the actions of top management in the Postal Service. Many postal facilities consequently have toxic work environments, and they can be a catalyst or trigger for serious acts of workplace violence, including homicide and suicide. The associated rewards system for behavior consistent with the postal culture core values, moreover, enables systemic organizational and individual bullying of employees at all levels of the organization.

I define a toxic workplace environment as a workplace where there is a high incidence of stress-related illnesses. These stress-related illnesses are manifested by psychological and physical deterioration. In other words, these types of environments seriously erode employees’ health and well-being. The primary factors contributing to a toxic workplace environment are high job demands, low job control, and low social support. Low social support generally entails a lack of respect and validation of employees’ dignity by their “superiors”. It also oftentimes includes organizational practices and methods that encourage the bullying of employees to meet corporate goals.

Dr. Steve Musacco
Beyond Going Postal

Dr. Steve Musacco is a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, a M.S. in Counseling, and a B.A. in psychology. He’s been licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist and completed Coachu’s coaching program. He also worked for the postal service for 30 years.

Gallup study commissioned by U.S. Postal Services reveals serious management problems, job dissatisfaction

The United States Postal Service recently commissioned the renowned Gallup polling organization to perform a survey analysis of the USPS and its workers. While the Postal Service and its executive leaders certainly need to evaluate the Postal Service’s organizational dynamics and performance, it is not surprising that the report was not publicized. It was eventually obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request by the Inside Sources, an online media organization.
                                                                                                                                                                 .
The survey found that the U.S. Postal Service performs in the bottom 1 percent of questions relating to quality of work, positive relations with management, opportunities for learning and growth as well as being praised or recognized for doing good work. This report confirms the existence of the poor management practices and problems that I have thoroughly documented in my book, “The Truth Behind Going Postal: Surviving the Torture in the United States Postal Service.”  
                                                                                                                                                                  .
Until these issues are addressed, there will be growing turmoil in the system and Postal Services workers will continue to the bear the strain of unrealistic targets, forced overtime and poor working conditions. It is no wonder that it has been relatively common for workplace violence to erupt at the Postal Service – hence the popularity of the phrase, “going postal.”  My book explains this from my personal experience of 33 years at the Postal Service.

Exclusive: Survey Finds Turmoil in Postal Workforce

Survey Says: No Recognition for Good Work; Supervisors Don’t Care for Workers as People; Don’t Feel Job Is Important; Fellow Employees Not Committed to Doing Quality Work.

A survey of postal employees conducted last year for the United States Postal Service paints a dire picture of the state of the organization’s workforce.

Gallup, which was paid $1.8 million by USPS to conduct the survey, presents a comparison to the results of similar surveys of millions of workers at hundreds of other companies in recent years. Across a range of questions addressing satisfaction in the workplace, the USPS scores in the 1st percentile, the very bottom, of the survey results.

The topline results were obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request after the USPS declined to provide the data to InsideSources when asked in January.

*Postal workers reported strong job dissatisfaction, and in comparison to other organizations surveyed by Gallup, USPS employees say they rarely receive recognition for good work; their supervisors don’t care for them as people; they don’t feel their job is important; they lack opportunities to learn and grow, and their fellow employees are not committed to doing quality work. (*emphasis mine)

A spokesperson for USPS says the organization was disappointed with the results. “Clearly, there is much room for improvement.”

This was the first time the survey, known as Postal Pulse, was administered to postal employees. USPS previously surveyed employees on a quarterly rotation for 17 years. Postal Pulse is the first time Gallup has contracted with USPS to conduct a version of its Q12 survey, which since its development in the 1990s has been given to 25 million workers at over 1,100 firms worldwide.

The percentile results provided to InsideSources are compared to Gallup’s 2015 Q12 Overall Company Level Database. While Gallup did not respond to a request to explain what data is included, past reports from Gallup suggest the 2015 database is comprised of data from 2012, 2013, and 2014, which would come from approximately 400 companies and 7.5 million workers.

Noted as one of the “Strengths & Opportunities” found in the results is that 52 percent of employees strongly agree that they know what is expected of them. While this places USPS in only the 16th percentile of all the companies in Gallup’s database, this was by far the best USPS performed across all questions.

The survey had a total of 13 questions. Question 0 is a departure from the typical Gallup Q12. It asks employees their satisfaction with USPS as a place to work. Responses to this question range on a five-point scale from “extremely dissatisfied” to “extremely satisfied.”

The other 12 questions are all based on the Q12 and are on a five-point scale from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.”

The questions and the percentiles compared to the Gallup database are below.

Q0. How satisfied are you with the Postal Service as a place to work? 2nd Percentile

Q1. I know what is expected of me at work. 16th Percentile

Q2. I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right. 3rd Percentile

Q3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day. 7th Percentile

Q4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work. 1st Percentile

Q5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person. 1st Percentile

Q6. There is someone at work who encourages my development. 1st Percentile

Q7. At work, my opinions seem to count. 1st Percentile

Q8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important. 1st Percentile

Q9. My fellow employees are committed to doing quality work. 1st Percentile.

Q10. I have a best friend at work. 1st Percentile

Q11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress. 1st Percentile

Q12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow. 1st Percentile.

 Overall Grandmean: 1st Percentile

Gallup received responses from 270,000 postal employees nationwide. This was a response rate of only 47 percent, compared to Gallup’s 50th percentile response rate for other companies at 89 percent. The American Postal Workers Union discouraged its members from taking the survey because it believes the results could be used in contract negotiations.

In a letter to InsideSources, Kelvin Williams, the Executive Director of Employee Engagement at USPS, explained that the Postal Pulse survey was launched in 2015 with the goal of improving employee engagement, which will in turn increase productivity, workplace safety, and value for customers. Williams said that USPS will be working to identify and correct problems identified in the survey.

InsideSources followed up with USPS to ask how they were addressing these challenges. A spokesperson said they are taking action, but she cautioned results could take time. The USPS response:

We are laser-focused on finding ways to make improvements in postal work teams — and their work environments — all across the country.

We have assembled a dedicated, high-performing Employee Engagement team of employees who have begun the process of training all our postal leaders (tens of thousands) to translate the survey’s Q12 Engagement Questions into a “Daily Mission.”

We will hold postal leaders accountable for actively identifying and correcting their work environment issues in order to achieve a more satisfied and productive workforce, ultimately resulting in more satisfied customers.

We are realistic, and we know this will take time, perhaps as much as four or five additional survey administrations.

About the Author

Putting employees first – an essential truth for success in business and at the Postal Service

Going Postal Richard Branson Quote

As much as things are constantly changing in our world, some essential principles remain true – such as building an effective business or organization by treating employees well. Bridget Hyacinth is pointing out what Richard Branson and other successful leaders and entrepreneurs know and understand instinctively. When employees come first, efficiency and productivity increases, along with success and  profits.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the opposite of what is happening in the management system of the U.S. Postal Service. Managers set unrealistic targets and practices without the proper input of workers. Workers who stand up for their rights and oppose the system become targets for retribution, which I carefully documented in my book, “The Truth Behind Going Postal: Surviving the Torture in the United States Postal Service. Postal workers, managers, family and friends should read my book to understand what happens inside the system. Hopefully my book will stimulate discussion about policies and potential reforms.

The U.S. Postal Service will face many challenges in the coming years, with competition and vast demographic and technological changes. But if the system can be reformed to gain more input from workers and to put employees first, the system as a whole will be more efficient, productive and successful.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-employees-come-first-customers-second-third-brigette-hyacinth/

Why Employees Come First, Customers Second, and Shareholders Third.

 Brigette Hyacinth
Employees are your most valuable resource. Yet many companies ignore and treat their employees poorly. Our system has fallen into a self-reinforcing command loop construct as follows: Increase shareholder value at all costs without regard for the human factor. Sadly, if you do not cure the cancer in the root of the tree, not only with the branches and leaves die; but so will the the tree. Unhappy employees cost companies billions of dollars each year in lost revenues, settlements and other damages. The loss of revenue can send even established companies into financial distress, with some even filing for bankruptcy.

Financial Losses can result from:

Decreased Productivity. According to research conducted by Gallup, disengaged employees cost companies $450-to-$550 billion in lost productivity each year as a result of poor performance and high absenteeism.

Put your staff firstyour customers second &your shareholders third ~Richard Branson

Employee Negligence: When employees are put first, they feel a sense of ownership to the business. Such employees will always take the initiative to solve problems before they get worse. On the other hand, an unhappy employee will just move along and not care as an issue escalates. It is also common for dissatisfied employees to neglect to complete tasks or make mistakes. This leads to poor quality control standards, unsafe products and dangers to consumers. Cases of serious injury or death, caused by company negligence often results in hefty settlements being paid out to those affected.

Tarnished Reputation: Employees interact with customers and could say anything negative about the company’s culture, products and services. The actions of one individual can bring down a company or uplift it. In an age of social media, individual employee actions can have dire effects on an organization. Video accounts of poor customer service experienced by a consumer can go viral on Facebook with similar hashtags on Twitter calling for a boycott of the company. This story can then be picked up by mainstream news bringing negative press resulting in companies having to settle lawsuits.

Employees are the branches of the tree that makes a company grow. Research has found an economic link between employee satisfaction and company financial performance. Employees who genuinely like coming to work every day may have a positive impact on a company’s stock performance. A happy workplace culture does translate into better stock returns. Happy Employees = Happy Customers = Happy Shareholders.

Take good care of your employeesand they’ll take good care of your customers, and the customers will come back. ~J.W. Marriott

Employees are your best brand ambassadors. Your brand position is determined by the customer’s experience. The experience is delivered by your front line employees. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the business. Your employees know your customers best. They use your internal tools and systems every day. They have the answers on how to improve customer service and your products. They have the solutions on how to improve systems which can save money by driving efficiencies.

Employees are the backbone of any organization. In order to remain strong in an industry, employees have to be kept happy. Happy employees are always willing to do more, they will go to great lengths to help the company grow. Charity begins at home. If you want to get the best out of your employees – Put them first.

 

Amazon, the U.S. Postal Service, Sunday deliveries and untenable work conditions

During the last few years you may have been surprised to see U.S. Postal Service trucks delivering mail on Sundays; this arrangement was worked out as part of deal with the behemoth Amazon and the Post Office. While it may seem like a good idea for the general public, it is also another example of unrealistic and unfavorable pressures placed on Postal Service workers. An arrangement that looks good on paper from a management perspective can be extremely difficult and problematic when workers are forced to take overtime and extra work days for fear of management reprisal. This kind of retribution by management is well documented in my book, “The Truth Behind Going Postal: Surviving the Torture in the U.S. Postal Service.”

https://consumerist.com/2014/12/17/usps-workers-say-theyre-overworked-thanks-to-delivering-your-holiday-packages-on-sundays/

USPS Workers Say They’re Overworked Thanks To Delivering Your Holiday Packages On Sundays

(Don Buciak II)

Once upon a time, Sundays provided a much-needed day of rest for the nation’s postal service workers. But that all changed when the United States Postal Service and Amazon kicked off a partnership to deliver packages seven days a week, and now, a year later, workers say the deal has resulted in long hours and weeks without a single day off.

GeekWire reports that while consumers are receiving their goods seven days a week, the pressure put on postal workers is beginning to take its toll, especially with the increased number of deliveries that come with the holiday season.

A number of postal workers have reached out to GeekWire providing a synopsis of their concerns related to Sunday deliveries. Many report being asked to work more than 60 hours a week and going more than 20 days straight without a day off.

One worker, who posted a comment on a previous GeekWire story, says he has averaged 62-hour weeks while working 18 days in a row.

“I feel exhausted and really not looking forward to delivering packages plus doing collections tomorrow (Sunday) it looks like Christmas day will be my next and only day off since Thanksgiving,” the New Hampshire carrier says.

Jo Ann Pyle, the president of Branch 79 of the National Association of Letter Carriers in Seattle, tells GeekWire that she’s witnessed the overwhelmed and overworked postal carriers in dozens of offices around the city.

“We are in favor of the Amazon delivery business and Sunday parcel delivery — it’s fabulous and we want it to continue,” she says. “But we have not staffed up properly. We have some employees working seven, 14, or 21 days in a row, and sometimes 12 hours a day. Even though we want the business, that’s an unacceptable way to treat employees.”

Pyle tells GeekWire that since the partnership with Amazon began an average Sunday in Seattle includes roughly 100 carriers delivering 8,000 packages.

However, with holiday shopping in full-swing deliveries have increased drastically, with an average of 130 employees delivering 13,500 Amazon packages.

The higher-than-expected package volume on Sunday has likely been compounded by the USPS’s announcement last month that it would deliver packages on Sundays for all companies during the five weeks leading up to Christmas.

Officials with USPS say that increased volume of package deliveries on Sundays in Seattle is consistent throughout much of the nation.

Sue Brennan, a senior public relations representative with USPS, tells GeekWire that last Sunday the postal service delivered 4.6 million packages, an increase from the 1.6 million delivered last year. The prior Sunday, December 7, also set records, with 3.2 million packages delivered compared to 900,000 a year earlier.

Despite the strain carriers say they are feeling, Brennan says the increased volume and extra work during the holidays is par for the course and that “this type of volume increase would be a wonderful problem to have to address.”

While Brennan say that most of the Sunday deliveries are made by part-time, “non-career” employees, some full-time carriers say they regularly pick up additional shifts over the weekends.

Although, it might seem easy to just say, “Hey, if you don’t want to work, don’t pick up the shift,” it’s not that simple. Some carriers tell GeekWire they don’t feel comfortable turning down the work for fear their jobs could be on the line.

“If you say that you’re unable to do so, you’re threatened with loss of employment or told that you can find work elsewhere, at least that was what my manager told me,” one carrier reports to GeekWire.

The USPS appears to be trying to placate carrier’s worries by hiring more employees.

GeekWire reports that dozen of job openings are currently listed on the agency’s site. But with just eight days to go until Christmas, it’s likely a little too late to provide relief carriers say they desperately need.

The LA Times, U.S.Postal workers and the dangerous stress of hard-driving bosses

This LA Times article is a great analysis of the problems underlying the dysfunctional work environment at the U.S. Postal Service. It was written shortly after a mass shooting at the Escondido Post Office in San Diego, and the suicide of a mail carrier in the same district. As the article points out, there are intense, unbearable – and yet unseen – pressures bearing on productivity and this leads to a vast gulf between management and workers. The pressures build up and then suddenly there is news of a shooting or a suicide. Sadly, both my brother as well as a good friend in the Postal Service committed suicide. I wrote my book, “The Truth Behind Going Postal: Surviving the Torture in the United States Postal Service” to shine a light on these issues and put a human face on the problems workers confront. I believe we can do better as a society.

Escondido 1

http://articles.latimes.com/1989-08-11/local/me-154_1_postal-service

Workers Say Postal Jobs Take a Terrible Toll; Many Blame Stress on Hard-Driving Bosses

August 11, 1989|ROBERT W. WELKOS and H.G. REZA | Times Staff Writer

 

Two weeks before John Merlin Taylor went on a shooting rampage at the Escondido Post Office, another veteran San Diego-area letter carrier hanged himself in Ramona.

Like Taylor, whom colleagues described as “mellow and nice as could be,” postal workers said William Camp, 62, was “very well-liked and very quiet.”

But, on July 28, the retired mailman slipped a noose around his neck in his garage. One of his four sons found the body.

Camp’s colleagues said they could understand–if not condone–his actions. They understood the forces that drove Camp to take his own life: it was the U.S. Postal Service, they said.

Critics of the post office in San Diego say managers often treat employees in ways that add immeasurably to the stress of jobs that are, by their nature, stressful because of ever-increasing demands on productivity.

Although it would be unfair to blame San Diego Postmaster Margaret Sellers for the deaths of local postal employees–after Thursday’s shooting, Taylor was described as a model employee who had expressed few gripes about his work–critics say that Sellers and her managers often demand that employees meet unreasonable production goals and subject them to harassment and pressure on the job.

Others Have Died

Sellers’ spokesmen say the claims of harassment and pressure are often exaggerated, but acknowledge that post office work can be stressful.

Camp’s death was the fourth suicide of a postal worker in San Diego County this year–and there has been at least one other in years past.

On March 25, in a highly publicized incident, a 44-year-old letter carrier named Donald Mace walked into the lobby of the Poway Post Office, put a .38-caliber revolver to his head, and pulled the trigger.

Before he died, Mace had mailed a rambling suicide letter to the news media complaining about his medical and financial problems and telling of harassment by his supervisors.

Sue Reed, director of field operations for the San DiegoPost Office here, said Mace lost his home to the IRS and had other personal problems, and that his suicide wasn’t directly connected to stress at work.

On March 23, postal clerk Hector Rubio, 40, hanged himself with a leather belt at his Pacific Beach home. His wife, Barbara, found the body. A 20-year veteran of the Postal Service, Rubio was said to have had drinking problems.

In mid-June, Jay Fanum, a letter carrier since 1980 at the Encinitas Post Office, killed himself in his Vista home. Postal Service officials said Fanum was going through employee counseling at the time of his death and indicated that his problems may have been marital.

Several years ago, postal clerk Hector Torres, who colleagues said was having problems at work, jumped to his death off the Coronado Bridge.

The suicides have generated strong criticism of the Postal Service in San Diego and focused attention on employee violence and stress-related problems among workers in the sprawling postal agency. There are about 6,600 postal employees in San Diego County.

In the past decade, dozens of people–ranging from postmasters to carriers–have been murdered or wounded by their co-workers at postal facilities around the country. In the past 3 1/2 years, the Postal Service has recorded 355 instances in which employees assaulted supervisors and 183 in which supervisors assaulted employees.

Agency Concedes Problem

An untold number nationwide have killed themselves.

Critics of the Postal Service say that, in its quest to cope with volume that last year totaled 160 billion pieces of mail, the agency has extracted a human toll on its employees and their families.

The agency, while conceding there is a problem, nonetheless maintains that employee violence–from suicide to murder–is no greater in the Postal Service than in other sectors of the business world.

“We don’t have any more or any less problems than face society today, whether we’re talking about drugs or just plain bad temper,” said Lou Eberhardt, a Postal Service spokesman in Washington.

Once an official part of the federal government called the Post Office Department, the agency was reorganized in 1971 as a semi-private company called the U.S. Postal Service. Most of its employees are unionized, but are forbidden to strike.

Faced with mounting expenses and declining revenues, the Postal Service is trying to increase productivity while keeping costs down. Some union leaders complain that, in striving to meet these goals, supervisors are placing added pressures on workers, resulting in work speed-ups and employee complaints–and occasionally workplace violence.

Three years ago, the nation was stunned when part-time mailman Patrick Sherrill killed 14 co-workers, wounded six others and then committed suicide at the post office in Edmond, Okla. Sherrill, a man with an unstable personal history, had often talked about getting revenge on his bosses, who considered his work unsatisfactory.