APRIL 4, 2006—Grant Gallaher, a 41 year old letter carrier with 18 years of service is alleged to have ran his supervisor down in the parking of the post office in Baker City, Oregon. Then, he went inside the post office looking for the postmaster. When he couldn't find the postmaster, he returned to the parking lot and shot the supervisor several times with a .357 Magnum revolver. We mourn the passing of Lori Hayes-Kotter, mother of two.
MASS MURDER AND THE POSTAL PURGES - AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY
by Fred Dungan
Terrified pedestrians lie face down on the pavement while a plane strafes city streets. A hooded ninja dressed in black slays a woman with his samurai sword and hurls grenades at police. Taking a hostage, a lone gunman shoots four people during a 13 hour siege. No, these aren't scenes from some foreign capital in the midst of a civil war. It is "business as usual" for the United States Postal Service where violence and mass murder have become part of the cost of delivering the mail. Buckets of human gore are routinely mopped from the workroom floors while the Postal Inspection Service attempts to downplay the internecine warfare.
Fighting for its life against unconscionable wage demands, threats of privatization, and public criticism, the U.S. postal system has begun to crack under pressure. Purges of veteran employees have become commonplace as the quasi-military government monopoly struggles to quash organizational dissidence and maintain an anachronistic infrastructure that predates the American Revolution of 1776.
In 1753 King George II appointed Benjamin Franklin, then serving as postmaster at Philadelphia, as one of two joint postmasters general for the American colonies. Dismissed in 1774 due to his revolutionary sympathies, the Continental Congress reinstated him as the new nation's first postmaster general in 1775.
For the next 200 years the Post Office Department existed as a small cabinet level branch of the United States government. Its workers were low-paid and its budget was subsidized by Congressional grants. Postal workers were viewed as friendly, somewhat lazy, civil servants. Letter carriers commonly carried neighborhood gossip as well as mail and postmen often worked a single route for their entire career.
By 1968 the U.S. taxpayers were ready to scrap the inefficient, politically-oriented Post Office Department. On July 1, 1971, the United States Postal Service was established as a non-profit, self-supporting corporation. However, the act of Congress that created the Postal Service also institutionalized collective bargaining for employees. The race was on between the four major competing unions for the biggest slice of the postal pie. Each outdid the other in outrageous wage demands.
As labor costs soared, the Postal Service automated in an attempt to balance its budget. Despite modernization, wages and benefits had risen to 83 percent of the postal budget by the late 1980's. The average postal salary, including benefits, was more than 47 percent higher than the average for private-sector workers.
The only way to pay for the increased wages was to increase productivity. Routes were lengthened, quotas were introduced, and speedups became commonplace. Management adopted the policy of "pushing the envelope", meaning that every last ounce of effort was extorted from employees by any means possible.
For some the pressure became unbearable . . .
"As a worker, you are not part of the postal family and are taught from the beginning to know your place. Letter carriers are treated like field hands. Make a suggestion and they call you 'uppity.' And it doesn't get better with time. No wonder it's the veteran carriers - the guys with 20 or 30 years service - that go postal." - former California letter carrier
Patrick Henry Sherrill, like his fiery revolutionary namesake, was a patriotic American. After lettering in three sports in high school, he joined the Marine Corps and became a weapons expert. Following an Honorable Discharge, he joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard. Never marrying, he lived at home with his ailing mother and spent his spare time contacting fellow ham radio operators.
In l985 Patrick Henry scored high on a United States Postal Service entrance examination and was hired as a letter carrier for the Edmond, Oklahoma post office. He worked hard and passed the tough 90 day probationary period. Proud of his job, proud of his uniform, and proud to be a public servant, Patrick Henry could not understand why his superiors were never satisfied. The harder he worked, the more they expected from him. He was giving 100 percent and they wanted more. There was nothing left to give them but blood . . .
On August 19, 1986, two supervisors, Bill Bland and Richard Esser, Jr., escorted Patrick Henry into an office and took turns giving him a verbal beating. It was all a well-rehearsed act. They knew Patrick Henry was an excellent worker and figured that a reprimand would motivate him to work even harder. Supervisors were evaluated by how much mail they moved and upper management did not care how they did it. An employee who was "running scared" could be a considerable asset towards motivating the other workers. Mr. Bland was in especially good form this day and ended his harangue with a threat to fire Patrick Henry if his performance did not improve.
Patrick Henry left the office a visibly shaken man. That afternoon he phoned union headquarters to ask about a transfer to maintenance. The answer was not encouraging.