Shootings Reflect Stress in the Workplace : Tensions: Job pressures reportedly have been a factor in 34 post office-related killings since 1983. A congressional inquiry last year blamed poor management.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Shootings by postal workers have become a frequent occurrence in the last 10 years, prompting a congressional investigation last year to conclude that the Postal Service is fraught with problems, some job-connected and others involving unsuitable employees.

Since 1983, 34 people have been killed and 20 wounded in 12 post office-related shootings around the nation. Job-related tensions were said to be a factor in all the incidents.

A congressional investigation last year concluded that some unstable people slip through Postal Service hiring procedures and urged tougher employment screening as well as better training for supervisors. Many critics have cited the poisonous relationship between labor and management in the Postal Service.

Former Postmaster Gen. Anthony M. Frank said last year that too often the attitude of some postal supervisors is: "I ate dirt for 20 years and now it's your turn to eat dirt."

The Postal Service manages the nation's largest civilian work force, with about 729,000 employees. By federal law, the agency must break even, placing great pressure on Postal Service managers as costs rise and mail volume escalates.

Union officials said the tremendous workload is being translated into unbearable pressures. "People don't realize the stress postal workers suffer," said Norberta Fullen, secretary-treasurer of a union that represents 7,500 letter carriers in the Los Angeles-Orange County area. "They work under tremendous time stress. They have time limits that are down to minutes and seconds, and there are also some bad supervisors who make things worse."

Postal officials said the agency is continually trying to reduce job tensions and screen out people who may resort to violence.

But Rep. William L. Clay (D-Mo.), chairman of the House Post Office and Civil Service Committee, noting his committee's recommendations, urged faster action. "This senseless loss of life must stop," Clay said.

Clay's committee investigation was begun after a Nov. 14, 1991, post office shooting in Royal Oak, Mich. In that incident, Thomas McIlvane, a fired postal worker, killed four supervisors and wounded five other postal employees before killing himself.

Congressional investigators found that some Postal Service supervisors misuse their authority "to harass, coerce and intimidate employees," he said. They also found a "paramilitary style of management within the Postal Service," according to Clay.

U.S. Postmaster Gen. Marvin Runyon said Thursday that the Postal Service wants "to assure the safety of our employees, including tighter screening of job applicants and joint involvement with our unions and our management associations on improving the climate in our workplace."

"Most important, our policy on violence in the workplace focuses on not tolerating any form of violence or harassment, on reducing stress, and on treating every employee with dignity and respect," he said.

Critics of the Postal Service, including union officials, said Thursday that management still has a long way to go.

Fullen, the secretary-treasurer of Branch 1100 of the National Assn. of Letter Carriers, based in Santa Ana, said: "Some supervisors are pushing (postal workers) beyond what a person can do.

Times staff writers April Jackson and David Reyes contributed to this story.

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