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Picks up where



left off.


Postal workers still fighting for dignity in the workplace


By Al Ainsworth

In 1992 the United States Postal Service, related unions and associations signed the Joint Statement on Violence and Behavior in the Workplace, saying "There is no excuse for and their will be no tolerance of harassment, intimidation, threats, or bullying by anyone."

Twelve years later the Joint Statement continues to be ignored by postal managers and supervisors across the country. Just a little more than a year ago an USPS regional vice president was named Executive of the Year and given $10,000 by the Postal Service. Those who work beneath him referred to him "…as the ruler from the evil empire" and more than 700 employees picketed his Dallas, Texas office. A letter carrier in his district described the VP's vision of an injured employee as "Those on rehab (injured on the job employees) are like hanging fruit that drop from the tree and offer no support to the service. They are easily picked up and trashed."

Because of the obvious disrespect for employees, letters carriers, family and friends gathered to protest the policies and actions of the district vice president. Management’s response to the picket was that they treat their employees with respect. Employees countered by saying, "Management is abusive; they yell, they disrespect the workers. It’s the way they go about doing their jobs."

And, so the fight for dignity in the workplace continues.

A Texas union officer tired of the constant battle with management over the workplace environment wrote an article for his branch publication. He called the article PUT ON NOTICE. The following is an open letter to all postal supervisors:

"We the letter carriers of the United States Postal Service, hereby serve notice that we will no longer tolerate your abusive behavior on a daily basis.

"Effective immediately and without exception, we expect you to treat us with dignity and respect at all times. We will no longer allow you to discuss the day's workload with us in an aggressive manner."

"We know upper management has instructed you to confront us on a daily basis in an effort to increase productivity. Even though some of you disagree with that strategy, you are not allowed to manage any other way. You must challenge us, or they will find some flunky that will. The predicament you find yourself in has caused you considerable grief and frustration. You know it's true, we see it on your faces every day. You must choose between harassing us, or being harassed by them. You're in a no-win situation."

"However, having said that, we still do not feel sorry for you. You chose to go into management--and you'll stay there. You can't take what you dish out.

"Be prepared for us to respond to you in a different manner when you invade our space and attempt to bully us into submission. No longer will we choose between cowing down or responding in the same manner. What you will encounter is someone that will calmly tell you to please back up and lower your voice. If you refuse to do so, we will request to see our steward and file a grievance citing the Joint Statement On Violence And Behavior In The Workplace. We will put an end to your unprofessional conduct."

"We should have put you on notice a long time ago."

It is unfortunate that labor-management relations has reached the point where a "line has been drawn in the sand." But many Postal Service managers have long ignored the basic tenants of mutual respect and have helped create a toxic work environment. Indeed, it is time they were put on notice.

But the battle is not only in Texas. Last week there was a newspaper article about another picket—this time in a small town in Connecticut. Only friends and family formed the picket line, workers feared reprisal. They were concerned about their friends and family being abused by managers and supervisors.

Last year a postal union steward was terminated because he brought my first book in to work to read during his lunch break. A co-worker was offended by the title, Going Postal…The Tip of the Iceberg. More than 1-1/2-years later the case is still unresolved.

An associate editor for a Michigan APWU newsletter referred to managers and supervisors as "postal terrorists." She claimed management continues to create an unacceptable level of stress by accusing employee’s of "bad conduct," ignoring the "bad conduct" of postal managers.

Management’s vision of the Joint Statement is still solely that it is a tool to manage "problem employees" and not to manage "bad behaving" managers and supervisors.

The abused employees only recourse is the grievance-arbitration process, Equal Employment Opportunity complaints or civil action. The fight for dignity continues.

Table of Contents for Going Postal IIAl Ainsworth is a retired letter carrier and the author of Going Postal…The Tip of the Iceberg and the recently published Going Postal II…Still Fighting for Dignity in the Workplace. For further information write Chewah Publishing, 10345 SW Ridgeview Lane, Portland, Oregon 97219, call 503-246-0386 (see table of contents at right)

Photo of Al Ainsworth

posted 6/20/04

Filled with new stories documenting the Postal Service’s unique management style, including an employee fired for taking a book to work, a picket in Texas, "The daily grind" and many more stories.


The second book in the series describing the working conditions of postal employees. Featured stories are a Nebraska APWU steward fired for taking my first book to work, a picket in Texas protesting working conditions, stonewalling a disabled workers rights and a collection of short stories in "The daily grind." The book is also self-published by Al Ainsworth and is approximately 250 pages and is scheduled for publication on July 10, 2004.


The first book that opened the eyes of the public and postal employees to the toxic management style that is so prevalent in the United States Postal Service. The book uses grievances, arbitrations and court cases to tell stories ranging from rape to disparate treatment to threats, harassment and intimidation. The book is 171 pages and was self-published in 2002 by Al Ainsworth, a retired letter carrier and branch officer. 

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Updated 3/18/03

By Al Ainsworth

A small town postmaster in the Nebraska Panhandle banned a book and escorted a veteran steward to his car in mid-February for bringing a book to work to read during lunch. The postmaster deemed the book "unacceptable reading material" and in violation of the Zero Tolerance Policy, claiming other employees felt threatened by the steward's choice of reading material. The union representative learned two weeks later that the postmaster wanted to fire him.

I first learned of the banning and proposed removal through a phone call from the victim, who had just purchased and received his copy of "Going Postal, The Tip of the Iceberg", asking, "Do you want another story for your next book?" I said, "Sure," and then he began telling his experience.

The Zero Tolerance Policy is a management offshoot of the 1992 Joint Statement on Violence and Behavior in the Workplace. The Joint Statement was drafted in response to the 1991 Royal Oak, Michigan post office shooting by a letter carrier whom had been fired. Signed by representatives from the major postal employee unions and supervisor groups, it states in part: "There is no excuse for and will be no tolerance of harassment, intimidation, threats, or bullying by anyone."

The over reaction could be blamed on the book title. "Going postal" is a phrase much hated by U. S. Postal Service employees. Its meaning varies from "going berserk" to "crazed mass violence", but those actions and words only reflect "the tip of the iceberg", the subtitle of the book. There are many everyday situations that do not make the headlines--such as this story--but that are still tragic. Once you begin to look beneath the surface, labor-management and work-environment issues can be extremely toxic.

Ironically, the book is educational, simply telling union members what has happened to co-workers, provide some insight on how to address disputes, what remedies have been negotiated or awarded and how to cope with the toxic work environment in the Postal Service. It's not about creating a situation that would harm a co-worker or put an employee's career in jeopardy.

The book has been well received by postal employees across the country--not just by craft employees, but even by supervisors, managers and support service personnel. Postmaster General Jack Potter was given a copy of the book and has not complained about the contents or the title of the book. Union leaders have praised the book. But a small town postmaster has drawn the line in the sand. While the book's message has been understood and appreciated by thousands, the message apparently escaped this postmaster; of course, he didn't read the book prior to banning the book and disciplining the employee. Actions of this nature are a fairly common practice, since the Joint Statement is frequently violated as supervisors and managers berate employees.

A critical step should have been taken to determine the credibility of a threat. The Metz Decision lists the following to determine if a threat exists:

The listener's reaction
The listener's apprehension of harm
The speaker's intent
The conditional nature of the statements made
The attendant circumstances

Unfortunately, the incident was improperly assessed and an arbitrator has stated that improper management action such as this can cause harm to the employee--even if he gets his job back. By improper use of supervisory authority, the question of justice in an industrial setting such as "discharge" or "removal" has been recognized to be the extreme industrial penalty, since the employee's job, seniority, other contractual benefits and reputation are at stake.

The situation unfolded when the postmaster discovered the book on top of the steward's material and personal effects on a break area table during the steward's lunch. After asking the American Postal Workers Union steward if he knew whom the book belonged to and the steward replied that the book belonged to him, the postmaster asked if he could look at the book. After saying he could look at the book, the postmaster looked at the book then left the room to call someone. He returned to tell the employee that he had to clock out and go home. Shocked and curious, the steward asked why and the postmaster said "Zero Tolerance" and pointed to the title--Going Postal, in reference to the Joint Statement on Violence and Behavior in the Workplace. The steward, an eight-year postal employee and a steward for six years, knew his rights and asked if he could see his union representative. The postmaster said no and walked the steward to his car. Following the union greed of "obey now, grieve later," he went home and called his union representative, then me.

The following day he received a letter that he was being placed on Emergency Placement in Off-Duty Status (without pay). Two weeks later he was mailed a Notice of Proposed Removal. The APWU union representative is now on administrative leave until the issue is resolved.

Because of the controversial nature of the incident, United States Postal Service and government regulations prevent the employee from speaking out publicly, so, his name and work location are being kept confidential until the case is resolved and becomes public knowledge. The employee must adhere to the following regulations:

666 USPS Standards of Conduct
666.1 Discharges of Duties
Employees are expected to discharge their assigned duties conscientiously and effectively.

666.2 Behavior and Personal Habits
Employees are expected to conduct themselves during and outside of working hours in a manner, which reflects favorably upon the Postal Service. Although it is not the policy of the Postal Service to interfere with the private lives of employees, it does require that postal personnel be honest, reliable, trustworthy, courteous, and of good character and reputation. Employees are expected to maintain satisfactory personal habits so as not to be obnoxious or offensive to other persons or to create unpleasant working conditions.

666.3 Loyalty
Employees are expected to be loyal to the government and uphold the policies of the Postal Service.

666.5 Obedience to Orders
666.51 Protests
Employees must obey the instructions of their supervisors. If an employee has reason to question the propriety of a supervisor's order, the individual will nevertheless carry out the order and immediately file protest in writing to the official in charge of the installation, or appeal through official channels.

666.6 Employees will cooperate in any postal investigation

As you can see employees are bound to show respect for the service and not discuss anything of a negative nature.

In researching my book, "Going Postal. The Tip of the Iceberg," I discovered case after case where unprofessional and abusive supervisors lorded over their regions like fiefdoms, ignoring contracts, manuals and labor laws--frequently violating an employee's just cause and due process rights and ignoring their responsibilities. A case report explained," It is an arbitrator's function not only to safeguard the employer's right to discipline for cause where its exercise is necessary to the efficient operation of his business, but also to safeguard the interests of the disciplined employee by making sure that the cause asserted for disciplining him is just and the penalty is also fair and not disproportionate to the offense."

Postal employees across the country have rallied in support of the "fired" Brother. There's a national Netters movement to help their Union Brother. Many have provided statements to help defend the APWU steward. All are enraged, leading a Florida postal employee to say, "This is truly despicable what they are trying to do to someone for reading your book. I read your book and loaned it to others to read. What I derived from your book was that it basically was a focus on the 'Joint Statement' and the management abuses of the joint statement."

Another thinks it's typical management, saying, "This looks like an old fashioned retaliation for the steward being a steward."

Al Siebert Ph.D., a nationally known psychologist and author, endorsed the book and reminds us after learning of the incident, "Going Postal is a landmark book that is destined to trigger important changes in the US Postal Service. The starting point for making things better always starts with a tough-minded look at current conditions. Al Ainsworth's courageous, informative document does that. Going Postal is essential reading for anyone wanting better working conditions in the US Postal Service."

While the dispute may be resolved in the steward's favor, it will take months to resolve. In the meantime there are sleepless nights and other stress-related symptoms that will affect his life--all caused by an over-zealous manager. The results of the dispute will be included in a soon-to-be published follow-up collection of stories, "Going Postal II.Still Fighting for Dignity in the Workplace".

We only hope the postmaster is unable to sleep as well.

A brief postscript finds management waffling in their initial assessment and referring to the situation as a "personality conflict". It almost sounds like they just wanted to harass, bully and intimidate (a violation of the Zero Tolerance Policy and the Joint Statement) a good union representative for doing his job and are now setting the stage for removing the discipline because of a "misunderstanding". Even if management has to pay lost time and benefits they feel they've done their job causing hardship and duress to a steward for more than a month.


note: The grievant is stressed and needs everyone's support.

Al Ainsworth, the self-published author of "Going Postal...The Tip of the Iceberg", is a retired Portland, Oregon letter carrier, having delivered mail for 25 years for the USPS. He also served as a steward and union officer for more than 20 years and is still serving the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 82 as Director of Retirees. He can be reached at
chewah (at) teleport (dot)com or www.chewahpublishing.com For further information please call 503-246-0386, e-mail chewah@teleport.com or write 10345 SW Ridgeview Lane, Portland, Oregon 97219.







 Postal Service Ignores Underlying Workplace Problems



Going Postal! The Tip of the Iceberg"Going postal" is a phrase much hated by U. S. Postal Service employees. Its meaning varies from "going berserk" to "crazed mass violence". But those actions and words only reflect "tip of the iceberg" and only describe the extreme cases.

There are many everyday situations that do not make the headlines but that are still tragic. Once you begin to look beneath the surface, labor-management and work-environment issues can be extremely toxic.

Postal employees and consultants specializing in behavioral sciences have issued reports and have been removed from their assignment or have resigned because of conditions they felt were deplorable. Following an investigation of working conditions in an Oregon post office, an Employee Assistance Program representative reported the Postmaster had a personality disorder, which she described as anti-social behavior. She recommended the Postmaster
be counseled. The day after the mental health therapist made these observations; the region the post office was in was removed from her assignment.

Other postal employees have resigned because of abusive managers. A specialist in the behavioral sciences resigned and said, "I can no longer work for a District that systematically destroys people's lives for no other apparent reason than that it can. The management style in Customer Service is rewarded, and therefore emulated, is one that creates employees (EAS [management] and craft alike) who are afraid to express an original thought, be creative, innovative, solution-oriented, proactive or preventative. Rather, it insidiously creates employees who become for, reasons of survival, sycophantic, terrorized or invisible. Enlightened humanistic managers must have tremendous amounts of outside support and inner resiliency to endure."

In researching my book, "Going Postal. The Tip of the Iceberg," I discovered case after case where unprofessional and abusive supervisors lorded over their regions like fiefdoms, ignoring contracts, manuals and labor laws.

The Postal Service's 1992 Joint Statement on Violence and Behavior in the Workplace is frequently violated as supervisors and managers berate employees.

The statement was in response to a 1991 post office shooting by a letter carrier who had been fired. Signed by representatives from the major postal employee and supervisor groups, it states: "There is no excuse for and will be no tolerance of harassment, intimidation, threats, or bullying by anyone."

This disregard for the Joint Statement continues in communications within management circles. Managers often send memos that carry a stressful theme, threatening supervisors or station managers that action will be taken if they do not meet productivity or attendance goals.

An August 2000 study conducted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse for New York's Columbia University determined that "going postal" is a myth, a bad rap. But it also developed a list of suggestions to resolve work environment concerns. The study added that postal workers were no more likely to physically assault or verbally abuse their co-workers than employees in the national workforce.

The study concluded that postal employees are only one-third as likely as those in the national workforce to be victims of homicide at work.

While "Going postal" may be a myth, the study emphasized there are areas that need to be addressed that have a detrimental affect on the work environment--the author calls those "the truths behind the myth".

The study uncovered negative aspects of the postal work environment that have not been adequately addressed. Also, it developed recommendations to address those concerns and help improve working conditions and maintain a safe and secure work environment.

Unfortunately, although the study was done at the behest of the Postal Service, many of its recommendations have been largely ignored.

Al Ainsworth, a retired letter carrier from Portland, Ore., is the author of "Going Postal. The Tip of the Iceberg." For more information visit www.chewahpublishing.com or write to

Chewah Publishing

10345 SW Ridgeview Lane

Portland, Oregon 97219