Hearing to focus on Postal Service job conditions Federal workers

August 20, 1992|By Daniel Horgan | Daniel Horgan,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- On Nov. 15, 1991, Thomas McIlwane opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle at the Royal Oak., Mich., Post Office, killing four supervisors and wounding five others before turning the gun on himself.

Mr. McIlwane had just been fired from his letter carrier job.

Almost two years later, two congressional subcommittees want to know whether the Postal Service has corrected conditions they say helped spark the tragedy and similar incidents at other postal sites.

The House Post Office and Civil Service subcommittees will hold a joint hearing Sept. 15 to determine whether the Postal Service has acted on recommendations contained in a congressional report on the shootings.

The June report cited "very poor" labor-management relations at Royal Oak.

"Employees felt that discipline was used to harass and coerce them," the report said.

Mr. McIlwane's termination proceeding dragged on more than a year, "an unconscionable time," it said.

Congressional investigators also found Mr. McIlwane's threats were ignored by postal inspectors, though Royal Oak employees said they had reported such threats.

Pre-employment screening practices also were lax, the report said, citing Postal Service failure to obtain Mr. McIlwane's military records, which showed he was denied an honorable discharge.

Since 1985, 28 postal workers have died in five shootings by embittered colleagues.

The upcoming hearing is needed "to make sure the Post Office is moving to make sure things like this don't occur again," said Debbie Kendall, staff director of the Subcommittee on Postal Operations and Services. "We've had too many postal tragedies in the past three years."

The report calls on the Postmaster General to require more thorough employee background checks, to establish procedures for handling threats made by employees and to establish a reasonable time standard for completing grievance arbitrations.

Address square-off

A long-standing dispute between federal workers unions and agencies over disclosure of employees' home addresses probably will wind up before the Supreme Court, officials involved in the case say.

The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents 700,000 workers, and other unions have asked agencies to give them home addresses so they can contact workers for membership drives and other union-related purposes.

Many agencies have refused, saying the records are protected by federal privacy laws.

Numerous federal courts have ruled both ways on the issue, with the latest ruling due later this year from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, said Ron Leahy, a senior labor relations specialist with the federal Office of Personnel Management.

OPM, the Navy and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration are among the agencies that have been sued by unions for refusing to disclose employees' addresses.

Union officials maintain that they can't represent workers if they can't contact them.

"It certainly would help if we could communicate with the people we're legally bound to represent," said Diane Witiak, an AFGE spokeswoman.

There simply isn't enough union manpower to seek addresses from workers on the job, Ms. Witiak said.

The case likely will be decided by the Supreme Court, Mr. Leahy and other federal officials said.

Privacy wars II

Protecting workers' privacy seems to be a No. 1 priority for Uncle Sam these days.

Besides shielding home addresses, OPM has proposed requiring a judge's signature on any subpoenas of federal workers' personnel files. The new regulation, expected to be adopted this fall, is designed to prevent the disclosure of such information to persons who have routine subpoenas that have been approved by an attorney, court clerk or others who are not judges, said John Sanet, OPM Privacy Act adviser.

For example, the ruling, which would affect a small number of workers, would stop insurance companies or other litigants from gaining access to a worker's file without a subpoena, Mr. Sanet said.

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