The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Postal workers have gotten a "bad rap" from widespread reports of violence at post offices, says a new report from an independent commission that concludes the agency is actually one of the safest places to work in this country.
"Going postal is a myth, a bad rap, nonsense," commission chairman Joseph Califano said yesterday. "Postal workers are no more likely to physically assault, sexually harass or verbally abuse their co-workers than employees in the national workforce."
And, he added, "postal workers are only a third as likely as those in the national workforce to be victims of homicide" - 0.26 per 100,000 versus 0.77 per 100,000.
Concern about postal violence has risen with a series of 29 incidents dating to 1986 in which 54 people were killed.
"I didn't want to go to one more postal facility and explain why some father or mother was murdered," Postmaster General William Henderson said of his decision to ask the independent commission to analyze the problem.
While Califano's group determined that the rate of violence was actually lower in postal facilities than elsewhere, it did note that the post office has a high rate of grievances and made recommendations for reducing labor-management tension.
"The major findings, we're in absolute agreement with, and will take steps," said Henderson.
He said some of the suggestions, including incentive pay, will be brought up in negotiations with the postal service's major labor unions, and he will take steps to modernize the service's grievance process.
While the instances of violence in recent years included many other businesses, in the vernacular, a violent attack in the workplace became known as "going postal."
Califano reported that workers at private postal services are twice as likely to be murdered on the job than federal postal workers, and retail clerks are eight times more likely. The highest murder rate, he noted, was for taxi drivers.
Nonetheless, he said the past reports about going postal have caused "unnecessary 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 that surrounded the coverage of Postal Service events has done violence to Postal Service employees, in their view of the security that they have in the workplace."
The study surveyed 12,000 postal workers and 3,000 employees in other jobs around the country and concluded that there is an unacceptable level of violence in the American workplace. Among the findings:
-One in 20 workers was physically assaulted on the job in the past year, 5 percent each for postal workers and others.
-More than one in six people were sexually harassed at work, 14 percent for postal workers, 16 percent in other jobs.
-About one-third of workers said they were verbally abused on the job, 36 percent of postal workers, 33 percent elsewhere.
-The chance of physical assault by co-workers was 4 percent for postal employees, 3 percent for others.
-But postal workers were less likely to face physical assault from outsiders, 0.4 percent versus 2.3 percent.
In the wake of the violent incidents, the post office instituted programs to prevent repeats, including a zero-tolerance policy for weapons on postal premises.
The report said those programs should be continued. It also made other recommendations, including improved screening of job applicants for potential violence, and improved security by establishing a communications system for carriers, especially in high-crime and remote areas.
Califano, a former secretary of Health and Human Services, currently heads the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.