Neither sleet nor snow nor anthrax

On Tuesday morning, National Public Radio ran a story about postal workers and the risk of exposure to anthrax in the wake of two postal workers dying of the disease. One man they interviewed was very angry that there had been a flurry of concern for the employees on Capitol Hill in Tom Daschle’s office, but no one had thought to test the postal workers.

Indeed, this seemed kind of surprising to me, because I never thought they wouldn’t test the postal workers. The Deputy Postmaster General John Nolan defended the lack of response by saying, “there was no indication at all that there was any risk.”

How can he say that? These people in the post offices and mail warehouses should be considered to be the first people exposed to the tainted mail. Just because they are not the president does not mean they shouldn’t undergo the benefit of testing. Two people died as result of this oversight.

Even Tom Ridge, in his vaunted new position as Director of Homeland Security did not think Postal officials acted improperly. This seems odd, as the mail was the way the anthrax was delivered, and you would want to safeguard the people who are in a position where they would and can detect and are exposed to this latest form of terrorism. Has anyone even considered that one of these tainted envelopes could open up and other people’s mail could be tainted?

Our mailpersons put themselves in the line of all sorts of risks. People send all sorts of weird things in the mail, from narcotics to soiled unmentionables. They risk exposure to dog bites and all manners of drunken boorishness. They have to carry our mail in all sorts of crappy weather and regularly put up with our ingratitude.

I was talking with the man who delivers the mail to my office. He agreed with me that the Postal Service had committed an egregious oversight in failing to test its employees. He said their supervisor had discussed the situation with them. He expressed a little unconcern, because he faces quite a bit of bad human behavior every day.

The thing people do not understand about mail persons, is that they are a lot like secretaries. They do not appear to be the most important people in the office, but they wield a hidden power. The mailman/woman, like the secretary, can “lose” your bills. I knew a guy in Eugene who regularly stole Rolling Stone magazine while he was working at the Post Office. He once told us he would steal adult magazines, but people would complain when those went missing.

Of course, I am not saying all mail people do this. I do think it is wise to keep in mind that they are not nameless, faceless beings that bring you your Barely Legal magazine every month, without comment. They are people with friends and families who love them. Now, their friends and families have more to worry about than just dog bites or messy boxes of human waste.

It would behoove those on Capitol Hill to pay attention to the mail people. They may not socialize with those who sort our mail and carry heavy piles of catalogues at Christmas time, but the mail people are essential to their and all of our jobs.

I would not be surprised if Tom Ridge and the Deputy Postmaster General stop getting their issues of Rolling Stone and start getting angry calls from creditors wondering where their payments are. Postal workers are people too.