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

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.

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