Commission: 'Going Postal' Is a Myth

ByABC News

W A S H I N G T O N, Aug. 31, 2000 -- “Going postal” is a myth, according to acommission formed to study violence at the post office.

The panelfound postal workers are no more likely to face violence on the jobthan workers in general, and only one-third as likely to bemurdered there.

Joseph Califano, who headed the commission, said postal workershave gotten a “bad rap” from reports about violent incidents.

A series of killings at post offices in the late 1980s and 1990sdrew attention to tensions in the postal workplace and raisedconcerns about the safety of employees.

In 1998, postal officials asked Califano, director of theNational Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at ColumbiaUniversity, to head a panel analyzing the issue.

‘A Bad Rap’

His conclusion: “Going postal is a myth and a bad rap, causingunnecessary apprehension and fear among 900,000 postal workers.”

Mary Elcano, former general counsel for the post office, agreed,commenting that “what concerned me is the sensationalism thatsurrounded the coverage of Postal Service events has done violenceto Postal Service employees, in their view of the security thatthey have in the workplace.”

Elcano, now a partner in the Washington law office Brown & Wood,had not seen a final version of the study.

The 249-page report concludes that postal workers are onlyone-third as likely as others in the national work force to bevictims of homicide on the job — 0.26 per 100,000 compared with0.77 per 100,000.

Less Danger

And retail workers are eight times more likely than postalemployees to be homicide victims on the job, according to thestudy.

The study surveyed 12,000 postal workers and 3,000 employees inother jobs around the country and concluded that there is anunacceptable level of violence in the American workplace. Among thefindings:

One in 20 workers was physically assaulted on the job on thepast year, 5 percent for postal workers and others. More than one in six people were sexually harassed at work, 14percent for postal workers, 16 percent in other jobs. About one-third of workers said they were verbally abused onthe job, 36 percent of postal workers, 33 percent elsewhere. The chance of physical assault by co-workers was 4 percent forpostal employees, 3 percent for others. But postal workers were less likely to face physical assaultfrom outsiders, 0.4 percent versus 2.3 percent.

The new analysis noted that postal workers file an unusuallyhigh number of grievances and equal employment opportunitycomplaints and said the backlog can take years to resolve,increasing tensions between labor and management.

It noted that a redress program started under Elcano in 1994 hashelped resolve at least some of that problem by using outsideprofessionals to mediate disputes. The report urged increased useof outside counselors and investigators.

In the wake of the violent incidents the post office institutedprograms to prevent repeats, including a zero tolerance policy forweapons on postal premises.

Pitch for Improvements

The report said those programs should be continued. Otherrecommendations included: Improve screening of job applicants for potential violence. Improve security by establishing a communications system forcarriers, especially in high-crime and remote areas. Clarify policy on zero tolerance for violence and increaseunderstanding of that policy.

Continue violence awareness programs for workers with greaterunion participation. Assure that warning signals are heeded by improving operationof local teams established to assess threats and respond to crises. Limit potential for violence during and after terminations bybetter training for managers and union officials in handling thesesituations.

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