The United States Postal Service inadvertently breeds serial killers and - rather than doing its best to remedy the situation - chooses to deny that there is anything wrong.
Pushing the Envelope
by Fred Dungan
Terrified pedestrians lie face down on the pavement while a plane strafes city streets. A hooded ninja dressed in black slays a woman with his samurai sword and hurls grenades at police. Taking a hostage, a lone gunman shoots four people during a 13 hour siege. No, these aren't scenes from some foreign capital in the midst of a civil war. It is "business as usual" for the United States Postal Service where violence and mass murder have become part of the cost of delivering the mail. Buckets of human gore are routinely mopped from the workroom floors while the Postal Inspection Service attempts to downplay the internecine warfare.
Fighting for its life against unconscionable wage demands, threats of privatization, and public criticism, the U.S. postal system has begun to crack under pressure. Purges of veteran employees have become commonplace as the quasi-military government monopoly struggles to quash organizational dissidence and maintain an anachronistic infrastructure that predates the American Revolution of 1776.
In 1753 King George II appointed Benjamin Franklin, then serving as postmaster at Philadelphia, as one of two joint postmasters general for the American colonies. Dismissed in 1774 due to his revolutionary sympathies, the Continental Congress reinstated him as the new nation's first postmaster general in 1775.
For the next 200 years the Post Office Department existed as a small cabinet level branch of the United States government. Its workers were low-paid and its budget was subsidized by Congressional grants. Postal workers were viewed as friendly, albeit somewhat lazy, civil servants. Letter carriers commonly carried neighborhood gossip as well as mail and postmen often worked a single route for their entire career.
By 1968 the U.S. taxpayers were ready to scrap the inefficient, politically-oriented Post Office Department. On July 1, 1971, the United States Postal Service was established as a non-profit, self-supporting corporation. However, the act of Congress that created the Postal Service also institutionalized collective bargaining for employees. The race was on between the four major competing unions for the biggest slice of the postal pie. Each outdid the other in outrageous wage demands.
As labor costs soared, the Postal Service automated in an attempt to balance its budget. Despite modernization, wages and benefits had risen to 83 percent of the postal budget by the late 1980's. The average postal salary, including benefits, was more than 47 percent higher than the average for private-sector workers.
The only way to pay for the increased wages was to increase productivity. Routes were lengthened, quotas were introduced, and speedups became commonplace. Management adopted the policy of "pushing the envelope", meaning that every last ounce of effort was extorted from employees by any means possible.
For some the pressure became unbearable . . .
Patrick Henry Sherrill, like his fiery revolutionary namesake, was a patriotic American. After lettering in three sports in high school, he joined the Marine Corps and became a weapons expert. Following an Honorable Discharge, he joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard. Never marrying, he lived at home with his ailing mother and spent his spare time contacting fellow ham radio operators.
In 1985 Patrick Henry scored high on a United States Postal Service entrance examination and was hired as a letter carrier for the Edmond, Oklahoma post office. He worked hard and easily passed the tough 90 day probationary period. Proud of his job, proud of his uniform, and proud to be a public servant, Patrick Henry could not understand why his superiors were never satisfied. The harder he worked, the more they expected from him. He was giving 100 percent and they wanted more. There was nothing left to give them but blood . . .
On August 19, 1986, two supervisors, Bill Bland and Richard Esser, Jr., escorted Patrick Henry into an office and took turns giving him a verbal beating. It was all a well-rehearsed act. They knew Patrick Henry was an excellent worker and figured that a reprimand would motivate him to work even harder. Supervisors were evaluated by how much mail they moved and upper management did not care how they did it. An employee who was "running scared" could be a considerable asset towards motivating the other workers. Mr. Bland was in especially good form this day and ended his harangue with a threat to fire Patrick Henry if his performance did not improve. Patrick Henry left the office a visibly shaken man. That afternoon he phoned union headquarters to ask about a transfer to maintenance. The answer was not encouraging.
Driving home, Patrick Henry began to get angry. He knew he was a better letter carrier than most of his co-workers. In high school football, the Marine Corps, and the Postal Service he had always given his best. Now he was going to be fired. It wasn't supposed to end this way in America . . . .
On August 20, 1986, Patrick Henry made his last sacrifice to the system he believed in. Stern-faced and sober, all anger drained from his body and replaced by a determination to do what he knew to be necessary, he dressed in his best summer blue uniform, placed two .45 Colt government-issued semi-automatics, a .22 caliber pistol, and ammunition in his mailbag and drove to work as usual at 6:45 AM.
Despite the miserable August heat, the air conditioning had been turned off in most of the large, new post office for the past several weeks in order to save money. The place had become, quite literally, a sweatshop - a windowless brick oven in which both the customers in the lobby and the employees on the workroom floor sweltered. Only the new postmaster and his closest cronies in the plush administrative offices were deemed deserving of the comforts of air conditioning. Employee morale had hit at an all time low.
Entering from the east side of the building, Patrick Henry strode towards Supervisor Esser. The .45 caliber Colt Model 1911-A1 is a handgun that requires concentration. Thumbing off the two safeties, Patrick Henry lifted the weapon from his satchel and pointed it at the ceiling, reaching across with his other hand to pull back the slide and jack a round into the chamber. Coming closer, almost to point-blank range, he extended his arm until his elbow locked and slowly brought it down while he sighted across the barrel. Being careful to squeeze, not jerk, the trigger, he applied the five pounds of pull necessary to fire the weapon.
It discharged with a blast that sounded more like a shotgun than a pistol. Supervisor Esser was leveled by the tremendous impact of the flat-nosed slug as it tore a gaping hole through his body. The recoil knocked Patrick Henry's hand upward. As he lowered it again, he aimed at nearby postman Mike Rockne. Too stunned to flee, he too was gunned down.
Everyone either hid or fled towards the exits. Patrick Henry chased several of his co-workers through a side entrance and shot one, then shut and bolted the door. His victim, mortally wounded, managed to crawl to the parking lot before collapsing from loss of blood.
Methodically going from exit to exit, Patrick Henry began to seal the building. While securing the doors, he noted the location of those who had failed to escape. He started toward the lobby entrance, but had to stop to reload. Hiding in a nearby broom closet with another employee, letter carrier Tracy Sanchez distinctly heard the metallic clicks as the bullets were being inserted. Seven bullets to each magazine and an extra one for the chamber. It took less than a minute.
Systematically searching the workroom floor, he flushed several employees who were hiding in gurneys or under letter cases. He envisioned a target on their upper torsos and seldom missed his mark. Working fast and efficiently, he took less than five minutes to slaughter everyone in the large work area at the rear of the building. Some of the survivors would later sardonically admire the speed and skill with which Patrick Henry Sherrill had performed his grisly task.
All that remained were a few clerks and some office personnel in the front of the building. Most had already fled through the open lobby entrance. Patrick Henry strode past several clerks and shot several others. Not everyone deserved to die . . . .
Having traveled in a circle through the building, Patrick Henry found himself in front of the lifeless body of Supervisor Esser. Less than 50 bullets had killed 14 employees and wounded seven in less than 15 minutes. As he stood staring at the carnage, his concentration gave way to a feeling of revulsion.
Would the Postal Service now concede that he had worked hard enough? All he had wanted was to do a good job. Nobody seemed to understand. But he was prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. Patrick Henry raised the pistol to his own head, sobbed, and squeezed off one final round.
When the body count was tallied, it became the third largest mass murder by a lone gunman in United States history. Publicly the Postal Service feigned shock and outrage, but privately they had expected it for quite some time. Incidents of violence were on the increase and two supervisors had been killed in Atlanta the previous year. In the next three years there would be 355 assaults reported (undoubtedly many went unreported) by workers on supervisors and 183 by bosses on workers. Few of these would ever become public knowledge.
Nothing could be allowed to disrupt the flow of mail. The gore was mopped from the brown linoleum floor and Edmond's post office was open for business as usual the next day. Dick Carleton, general manager for the Oklahoma division of the Postal Service, countered charges of worker abuse by saying, "If there were so many problems, would you have everyone showing up for work on the day after a tragedy?" Bill Shockey, Edmond's former postmaster, commented that everyone who came to work "performed like champions." Although Supervisor Bland originally admitted to police that he threatened Patrick Henry with dismissal, the Postal Service told the press that he had merely been "counseled".
"Crazy Pat" became the Postal Service's official spin to downplay the incident. Postal inspectors circulated stories about "Crazy Pat" dressed in fatigues (considering he was in the Oklahoma National Guard, this was hardly unusual), peeping in neighborhood windows. He had once ridden solo on a bicycle built for two and someone remembered that he had smiled too much at his twentieth high school reunion. By proving his insanity, the Postal Service sought to avoid any question of its own sanity. A one time neighbor, Charles Thigpen, commented that everyone wanted " . . . quick answers. And since Pat's not alive to defend himself, they don't have to be the right answers."
Meeting in San Antonio, Texas on August 21, the day following the tragedy, the 26,000 member National Association of Postmasters requested greater authority to fire Vietnam veterans. Postmaster Hugh Bates of Clanton, Alabama, president of the association, called for a get tough policy and vowed to continue to press workers to be more productive.
In the 1980's certain groups of employees enjoyed a special status within the United States Postal Service. To better fulfill job quotas mandated by Congress, exclusive "in house" social organizations were formed within the Postal Service to better serve the perceived "special" needs of women and minorities. Women, in particular, were encouraged to meet in officially sanctioned, informal discussion groups to solve mutual problems. Objecting to the harsh, regimented, quasi-military atmosphere of the Postal Service, some women saw Vietnam-era veterans as the chief obstacle to their campaign to civilize the Postal Service. Militant feminists complained that Vietnam-era veterans tended to be aloof, insensitive, and over competitive. Since women comprised upwards of 35 percent (and rising) of the postal workforce, their complaints were treated seriously.
Following the Edomond, Oklahoma tragedy, women's newly acquired power coupled with their imagined fears led to prejudice against Vietnam-era veterans. The Postal Service had created "Crazy Pat" and he had come back to haunt them.
The effects of the slaughter were felt far from Oklahoma. The shock waves quickly reached Riverside, California where I was working as a letter carrier. When I finished my route and returned to the post office on the afternoon of August 20, 1986, I heard the sketchy and distorted details of the story as it was then circulating on the workroom floor. A "pscho-vet", drunk or drug-crazed, had gone on a rampage and murdered scores of his fellow carriers in Edmond, Oklahoma with a .45 military pistol.
Shortly afterwards a female supervisor made a bad joke about my experience as a Military Policeman in the Army, alluding to my expertise with a .45. It wasn't funny and nobody laughed. But everyone stared at me, instead of her. In the ensuing months relationships with my fellow carriers became increasingly frigid and I began to seek support from the other Vietnam-era veterans in my section who like me were beginning to suffer the pain of ostracism.
We thought the problem was only temporary, but we were mistaken. Rumors of violence and mayhem at unidentified post offices continued to spread. Psycho-vet had become the postal bogeyman.
Tension mounted. In June 1988 a clerk in Chelsea, Massachusetts killed a co-worker before committing suicide. During a 13 hour siege in New Orleans in December 1988, a mail handler, holding his ex-girlfriend hostage, shot his supervisor in the face and killed him. Three others were wounded and one was blinded in one eye. In May 1989, Alfred J. Hunter, a 42 year old Boston mail handler, murdered his ex-wife. He then stole a two-seater Cessna airplane and strafed the city's streets with an AK-47, bright green tracers spewing from the muzzle, for three hours. The Postal Service attempted to cover up these incidents and released few details. Rumors circulated that they were the work of psycho-vets. More and more pressure was being placed on postmasters to rid their workforce of Vietnam veterans.
On August 8, 1989, award-winning career carrier John Merlin Taylor was being jibed about the Edmond, Oklahoma tragedy by a group of his fellow carriers at the Oak Glen station in Escondido, California. Letter carrier Johnny Simms later claimed they were just innocently "joking around" with Taylor. The next day Taylor, a Marine Corps veteran who rarely complained, made a few sarcastic comments about the growing volume of mail before he clocked-out and went home.
On August 10, 1989, Taylor woke up early and put two bullets in his sleeping wife's head with a .22 caliber semi-automatic pistol loaded with long rifle ammunition. Dressing in his regulation summer uniform, he drove to work as usual, and shot fellow letter carriers Richard Berni and Ronald Williams to death as they sat on a picnic bench on the loading dock. Entering the post office through a side door, he shot co-worker Paul De Risi in the upper arm. When Taylor stopped to reload, fleeing window clerk William Karlson noted that "he didn't have any emotion. He was stern-faced." It was too early for most of the employees to be at work and Taylor soon ran out of targets. It was almost time to clock-in when Taylor put the pistol to his right temple and fired. He was just three years from retirement.
His stepson later remembered that John had been in tremendous pain from occupational disorders. Twenty-seven years of carrying mail had injured his feet, back, and shoulder.
Psychiatrists who had never met Patrick Henry or visited Oklahoma had attributed his behavior to "factitious posttraumatic stress disorder", a fancy term for self-induced battle fatigue. By 1986 many negative articles had been printed in the United States about the problems of Vietnam-era veterans. They had lost the war and were rapidly becoming the scapegoats of a deeply divided society suffering from moral decay. In contrast, "shell-shocked" veterans of previous wars had been the recipients of respect and understanding from a grateful nation.
Glenn Krouch, a spokesman for San Diego Regional Postmaster Margaret Sellers, denied that she routinely pursued a policy of discouraging employees from filing disability claims when injured on the job. Official postal policy maintained that workplace violence was the result of employees transferring personal problems to their work. Since on-the-job stress was not a recognized factor, the Postal Service did nothing to prevent its managers from conducting work speedups or bullying workers to increase productivity.
Shortly after the Escondido killings, I personally witnessed one of the many minor stress-related incidents that were occuring with frightening frequency throughout the nation. As I was sorting third class "junk" mail in the afternoon at the Arlington substation in Riverside, California, a recently injured carrier who was on light duty exited Acting Station Manager Jim Smith's office following an official "counseling". He threw the heavy door open with such force that the lever handle fully penetrated the opposite wall. Running down a narrow hallway, the "counseled" letter carrier stormed into the main workroom, leaving a trail of overturned mail cages and gurneys in his wake. Tubs and trays of mail were spilled everywhere. Lunging through the large double swinging doors at the rear of the building, he collapsed, spent and exhausted, against the metal railing of the loading dock.
My foreman, Ron Moreno, and I immediately dashed after him, while our supervisor hid behind a desk and dialed 911 (Emergency). We talked to the distraught carrier for several minutes and he had calmed down by the time the police arrived. But our supervisor was upset with us for having become involved and she gave us both a verbal reprimand.
It wasn't hard to guess what had happened during the counseling session. Jim Smith was a retired serviceman who had worked his way up from the enlisted ranks to become a mustang officer. He was a bull of a man and could have given Mike Tyson a lesson in intimidation. Once, when an intoxicated driver had veered and nearly rammed my postal vehicle in the parking lot of a local cantina, he had taken me into his office and screamed in my face until I had broken.
Jim Smith's latest victim was, of course, fired. My boss, Ron Moreno, wisely transferred to Kentucky, leaving me to face the wrath of the Postal Service alone. My route keys were mysteriously found on the roof of the building and I was given an official warning. A windshield inadvertenly spidered by a tray of mail subsequently earned me a suspension. Finally, on April 12, 1990, a recently installed ceramic sink fell from a restroom wall when I was nearby. Although it wasn't damaged, torrents of high pressure water cascaded from the broken supply lines and soaked a supervisor. I was formally charged with Destruction of Government Property, placed on Administrative Leave, and banned from all postal facilities pending a formal investigation. Since I was prohibited from entering the post office to gather evidence and interview potential witnesses, I was unable to prepare an adequate defense. When the investigative hearing was convened on May 11, 1990, a panel of four supervisors and Riverside Postmaster Jim Felts quickly and unanimously concluded that I had willfully sabotaged the china sink. Because it wasn't chipped, they concluded that I had somehow mustered the superhuman strength necessary to rip it from the wall, then had gently placed it on the floor. Nobody had seen me do it and nobody could explain how I failed to get wet, but everyone was sure it was the work of "Crazy Fred". The union steward, at the instigation of the postmaster, suggested I apply for a psychological disability. When I refused, I was asked to leave the room while the investigative panel decided my fate. Later, when I attempted to subpeona the minutes of the hearing, Personnel Director Ameal Moore testified under oath that they had been inadvertently lost from a locked file cabinet while being moved to a new location.
Four months later I received a certified letter informing me that I was discharged from the Postal Service, effective September 24, 1990. I immediately appealed the decision to the United States Merit Systems Protection Board, the agency charged by Congress with safeguarding the rights of veterans and civil servants. With 14 years of faithful federal service, 440 hours of accrued annual leave and over 900 hours of unused sick leave, I thought my loyalty and honesty were beyond question.
I was wrong. The majority of issues in my appeal were decided by a court-ordered telephone conference call between the administrative law judge, the Postal Service's representative, and myself. No transcript was made of this call. Eventually, a formal hearing was conducted at the Postal Service's San Bernardino Mail Service Center (hardly a neutral location). The Postal Service's representative presented the court with a thick file of unsubstantiated allegations that were entered into the record despite my objections. Since the National Association of Letter Carriers would not supply me with an attorney, I had to represent myself.
Appeal denied. With the firing of me and hundreds of Vietnam-era veterans like me across the nation, the Postal Service sought to restore peace to the workplace. Like all purges, it was unsuccessful because it looked for scapegoats rather than solutions. Once again, the violence flared with an even greater intensity . . .
Joseph M. Harris, a 35 year old Navy veteran had trouble sleeping on the night of October 9, 1991. Waking before midnight, he dressed in a bullet-proof vest, black military fatigues, combat boots, and a black silk ninja-style hood.
Writing a two page note, he referred to the Edmond, Oklahoma deaths and explained his own unfair treatment by the Postal Service. Carol Ott, a supervisor at the Ridgewood, New Jersey post office where Harris worked nights as a clerk, had had a personality conflict with him. Disregarding his twelve years of government service during which he had demonstrated no mental aberrations, she ordered him to take a "fitness for duty" psychological exam with a doctor chosen and paid by the Postal Service. Insulted, he refused to cooperate with the pseudo-psychological ruse and Ms. Ott instituted proceedings that resulted in Harris' dismissal in April 1990. The American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, of which he was a member, did not make a reasonable effort to have him reinstated.
Armed with a 9 millimeter Uzi handgun, a .22 caliber machine gun with silencer, three hand grenades, numerous homemade ether bombs, and a samurai sword, Harris booby trapped the front door of his apartment and drove to the suburban home of Ms. Ott. After forcing entry, he found her clad only in a T-shirt. Swinging his heavy sword in a great arc, he deeply slashed her left shoulder and continued to thrust as she staggered backwards. Stepping over her lifeless, nearly nude body, he crept down the stairs and shot her live-in boyfriend, Cornelius Kasten, Junior, behind the right ear as he sat watching television in the basement.
At approximately 2 AM on the morning of October 10, Harris entered the rear of the Ridgewood post office where he shot and killed two mail handlers, Joseph VanderPaauw and Donald Mc Naught. Barricading himself in the basement, he then shot at truck driver Marcello Collado who had become suspicious when he arrived at the back dock and could find nobody to help him unload his truck. Ducking low, Collado escaped unscathed and drove to the nearest police station. At 2:20 AM Sergeant Robert Kay and Officer Peter Tuchol attempted to enter the post office but were forced to retreat and await assistance when Harris lobbed a homemade grenade at them.
The Bergen County SWAT team surrounded the building and attempted to telephone Harris. Refusing to answer, he kept the SWAT team at bay until 6:30 AM when he surrendered to a police negotiator. At 7 AM the police defused a bomb made from automotive starting fluid from Harris' apartment door and the note detailing his grievances was found inside.
The Postal Service refused to give details of Joseph Harris' personnel file to reporters and a sign posted in the lobby of the Ridgewood post office ordered patrons ". . . do not ask the workers any questions regarding events of yesterday." Social workers and psychologists were brought in to instruct employees in how to deal with the experience and to shield them from inquiries from the press.
The Postal Service's business-as-usual, blame-it-on-a-psycho-vet, keep-a-lid-on-it, non-cooperation strategy was not without success. Only one major American newspaper picked up the story, despite its intriguing overtones and it curiously failed to spark the interest of editors on a day when the headlines concerned the nomination of Judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Subsequently, it received little national coverage from weekly news magazines (influenced without doubt to no small degree by the fact that magazines can't get delivered without a Second Class permit issued by the Postal Service).
On the same day that Harris took the law into his own hands to redress his grievances in Ridgewood, New Jersey, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan met with Postmaster General Anthony M. Frank to discuss an unusually large number of complaints by employees and customers about the suburban Detroit, Royal Oak post office. "The Postal Service . . . acknowledged management problems in the Royal Oak operation," Senator Levin later stated. He was promised a prompt investigation by the Postmaster Gerneral.
A response came sooner than expected . . .
On November 8, 1991, letter carrier Thomas Mc Ilvane, a 31 year old former Marine, lost his appeal for reinstatement to his job at the Royal Oak post office. He had been fired in 1990 for alleged insubordination.
Six days later, armed with a sawed-off .22 caliber Ruger Rimfire rifle, Thomas walked across the loading dock, passed through the large double doors, and entered the main sorting room of the Royal Oak facility. Grabbing one woman, he put his rifle to her head but then let her go, saying "You're not the one I want." Wandering through a maze of offices and cubicles, he killed four employees and wounded five others in less than ten minutes. The dead included a former supervisor and the labor arbitrator who had turned down his appeal. Having accomplished his gruesome task, Mc Ilvane fatally shot himself in the head.
"They needled him and needled him," commented Joan Mason, a Royal Oak clerk, "Everyone's got a breaking point."
Several years later, I obtained a partially blacked-out (what could possibly have pertained to our national security?) copy of an inquiry into the Royal Oak incident from the Postal Investigation Service through the Freedom of Information Act. Despirte being several reams thick, the report amazingly made no recommendations whatsoever for restructuring the USPS so as to prevent further violence. With no changes in the works - or, for that matter, even being contemplated - it was only a matter of time until . . .
On October 6, 1998, in Riverside, California, my home for more than 25 years, a Fontana letter carrier, Joseph L. Neale, Jr., age 49, snapped under the strain of working two jobs to earn a decent living and, at a meeting of the Riverside City Council, shot the mayor, Ron Loveridge, two councilmen, and three police officers. Return fire from quickly responding police wounded councilwoman Laura Pearson before Neale could be disarmed.
Neale was represented in court by Deputy Public Defender Lawrence Fait who directed his client to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Fait stated that "there was very strong consensus between the experts that Joe was in fact legally insane back on October 6. It is our position that the messenger was insane, not the message. There was nothing wrong with what Mr. Neale was attempting to convey." For some unknown reason Fait did not enter as evidence the many long letters which Neale had written to public officials regarding the injustices that had been committed against him and the children he had grown to love in his part-time job for the City of Riverside as a chess instructor in an inner city ghetto - a position which the City Council had eliminated, ostensibly due to lack of funding.
What Mr. Neale did turns my stomach. Both I and my son have served on various local community advisory committees and we have the greatest respect for the integrity of our municipal leaders. They are without doubt dedicated men and women whose honorable service too often goes unappreciated. However, their priorities are not always those of the community and I know for a fact that $300,000 in federal block grant funds which were allocated for a Day Care Center several years ago have been, at least temporarily, diverted to build an inline skating rink used primarily by upper middle class kids from outside of the redevelopment area. Could it be that these frustrations, when added to the pressures of working as a letter carrier, were simply more than Joseph Neale could take?
Neale was convicted of 12 counts of attempted murder by a jury in a trial held at the newly renovated Riverside County Courthouse in November, 2000. Ultimately, the jury did not buy Neale's argument that he had sought only to take hostages.
On February 9, 2001, Riverside County Superior Court Judge Christian Thierbach sentenced Neale to 374 years in prison. The sentencing came after several people targeted in the attack and their relatives urged the maximum term. Neale would have to live to be 175 years old before he would be eligible for parole. Although this may sound drastic, it should be remembered that the victims are still suffering. Councilman Chuck Beaty, who was shot in the face, shoulder, and back, received 32 stitches to his tongue, lost some teeth, and has had his jaw bone rebuilt several times. He is still in severe pain. Councilwoman Laura Pearson has bullet fragments in her hip and thigh which cause her to walk with a limp. And former police Sergeant Wally Rice is partially disabled. Considering how many people were wounded, it is a miracle that no one was killed.
The multiple massacres of the past decade have had no effect whatsoever on the boot camp conditions that exist for the majority of postal workers. Veterans are still being harassed with bogus "fitness for duty" psychological exams and trumped-up charges. Postal unions, which collect approximately $350 a year in dues per member, have made scant effort to end prejudice against veterans.
Nobody knows where and when the next mass murder may occur. Contrary to postal propaganda, the killers are not drug-crazed psychotics, but hard-working, caring employees who, under what the Postal Service considers its "right to mismanage," had their work ethic turned against them by a top heavy bureaucracy that feeds unappreciatively off the fruits of labor. Postal supervisors regularly stalk their intended victims in packs, striking from all sides without warning, using unethical tactics no longer utilized in private industry. The cornered worker naively seeks redress from the grievance procedure and, upon finding the system to be corrupt, goes down fighting - most often in the courts, but sometimes by the desperate means which have come to be known as "going postal."
The names of dismissed employees are sent to the Office of Personnel Management in Washington, D.C. where they are put on a special blacklist. Of major American employers, including the federal government, only the Postal Service discriminates against veterans and systematically terminates loyal employees with long service.
I want people to understand that these shooters were normal people who were pushed over the edge by ruthless administrators. None of them had criminal records and most put a gun to their own head when they realized what they had done. The USPS was a willing accomplice to these murders. The honchos at USPS national headquarters at L' Infante Plaza in Washington, D.C., did everything short of pulling the trigger and were well aware of where pushing the envelope would get them.
For every murder by a postal employee, it is estimated that there are five suicides. Most employees internalize their problems, blaming themselves while searching for a viable solution which, in the "Catch 22" workplace regimen instrumented by postal administrators, far too often does not exist. The ultimate indictment against the white collar criminals who run the postal monopoly is that they use up and discard the very best - a horrible, unconscionable waste of humanity.
Americans who honorably served their country during wartime are being unjustifiably labeled as unemployable by the United States Postal Service. Those who work hard to get ahead are increasingly finding that it gets them nowhere. What was once an excellent job for a career-oriented family person has become a fear-ridden nightmare.
Are the purges official? The Postal Service is a "top down," quasi-military operation. Discrimination against any grouping of employees is impossible without the knowledge and explicit approval of the Postmaster General. The insanity will come to an end only when the Postal Service is forced to drop its policy of continually pushing the envelope. Those who push run the risk of push escalating to shove.
Not content with intimidating employees, the Postmaster General has taken to threatening Congress as well. Contending that he needs a freer hand in raising postage rates in order to counter $1.7 billion in losses for fiscal 2001, Postmaster General John Potter says that if Congress doesn't allow him to get his way, the guarantee of mail delivery to every part of America at the same rate may come to an end. Either they let him take "bold actions" such as post office closings and suspension of Saturday delivery or "the universal [mail] service we rely on will be in jeopardy."
Ending Saturday delivery - as has been often suggested by armchair business analysts unfamiliar with the Postal Service's unique circumstances - would accomplish next to nothing. A complete overhaul of the unwieldy infrastructure, accompanied by a strong entry into the burgeoning electronic mail market, would be desirable. Snail mail is going the way of the Pony Express and the telegraph. Only a government monopoly stocked with petty bureaucrats posing as administrators could manage to get so far behind the times. Tiny Singapore's postal sytem - with far fewer resources - has managed, in this respect, to do a much better job. In fact, with the possible exception of what passes for a postal service in Italy, the United States Postal Service delays, loses, misdelivers, and mutilates more first class mail than that of any other industrialized country. It would not be that way were it not for the constant, unrelenting pressure on carriers and clerks to "move the mail." The USPS could learn a lot about quality control from the private sector.
What further evidence is needed to prove that the United States Postal Service regards its hourly workers as expendable second class hired hands than the death of Robert Morris Jr. from anthrax. Morris, age 55, was working at the Brentwood processing center in Washington, D.C., when a woman next to him found a letter with powder in it on October 13, 2001, two days before Senate Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle received a letter containing anthrax that had been processed through the Brentwood facility. On October 16, Morris began feeling achy and having headaches. Suspicious, he went to his doctor on October 18 for a throat culture but never received the results. "I guess there was some hang-up over the weekend. I'm not sure," he said later. "The doctor thought that it was just a virus or something." In desperation Morris finally dialed 911 on October 21, a Sunday, minutes after he began vomiting. Morris told the dispatcher that postal officials had issued a bulletin describing anthrax symptoms and that his symptoms matched them "almost to a T." An ambulance was dispatched to take Morris to the hospital, but it arrived too late. "They never let us know whether this thing was anthrax or not," Morris had confided to the emergency dispatcher. He said he had placed calls to postal officials but to no avail.
When the anthrax scare started, members of Congress and media celebrities got tested right away. Two postal workers - Joseph P. Curseen Jr. and Thomas L. Morris Jr. - had to die before Postmaster General John E. Potter got moving. When asked by a reporter why the Postal Service hadn't begun treating postal employees sooner, Deputy Postmaster General John Nolan snapped, "We don't need you all to cause us to second-guess." You would think that this would have cost him his job. But it didn't.
We can't bring back Morris or Curseen or the hundreds of other men and women in uniform who died needlessly because their overseers thought of them as wage slaves - good enough to sweat like pack animals to get out the mail, but not good enough to be treated like family. What we can do - and what I urge you to do - is to write Congress and tell them that the Postal Service needs to be completely overhauled, starting at the top. The Deputy Postmaster General says, "we don't need you all" and by God we surely don't need anyone like him.