Democratic Underground

Live Now, Deliver Later
October 29, 2001
by Rodney Jay C. Salinas

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Pop quiz: two groups of people are exposed to anthrax - U.S. Senators and U.S. postal employees - who would you treat first? If your answer was U.S. Postal Employees, then you were wrong. But don't fret, you're not the only one who failed; so did our government.

In the past few days, as the cases of anthrax have multiplied and its trace elements found up and down the East Coast, it has become all too clear who ranks higher on the political food chain. On October 15, when an anthrax-laced letter was discovered in the office of Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, virtually everyone on Capitol Hill ran in panic. In fact, health officials and investigators were on the scene in a matter of hours. And a few moments later, the powers-that-be decided to shut down Congress.

In retrospect, that was probably the right thing to do. "Let's send everyone home until we neutralize this threat," they said. That same evening, I ran into a bunch of friends who work on Capitol Hill and they were all but thrilled that they had the next few days off. They were only marginally concerned about their own health, but were pleased that the Congressional leadership was being proactive in shutting down.

But did anyone stop to ask how that letter got to Senator Daschle's office in the first place? Surely, someone must have followed the trail back to the postal facility where it was processed to find some clues, right? Well, assuming they did, why didn't anyone stop to think that the same anthrax that scared off Members of Congress and their staff could possibly infect the postal workers who delivered it?

In Hamilton Township, New Jersey, postal officials assured workers at their facilities that they had not been contaminated. But three days later, those same postal officials closed the facility. It took a full day before health teams arrived and sampled the areas of possible contamination. Not only did they find anthrax, but thirteen individuals tested positive for it.

The men and women who process, handle and deliver our mail are sitting at the "front line" of this new war on bio-terrorism. And it seems virtually no one, not even the Postmaster General, John E. Potter, seems to care. Because if he did, he would have done the same thing that Senator Daschle did - shut down.

For me, this battle isn't just a political or public relations issue - it's more personal than that. You see, my father is a mail handler in Eatontown, New Jersey, not too far from the ill-fated Trenton facility. And he's one of the thousands on the front lines.

I've spoken to him virtually everyday during this crisis and each day he has a new story to tell. The other night, while he was in another part of the facility, huge bundles of mail were being tossed and sorted into cloth bins. And when those bundles hit the bottom of the bins, white dust flew everywhere. Of course, the employees scattered like mice, undoubtedly scared for their lives.

My dad told me he's wearing gloves now and that he's got a prescription for Cipro ready to go just in case. I told him, "Don't go to work, your life is more important than sorting mail." But because he's a 20-year Navy veteran and dedicated civil servant, he replied, "I'm just doing my job, son."

And that's it in a nutshell - it is just a job. Which is more important - mail or human lives? My answer is clear.

So why has the Postal Service responded to this crisis in such a delayed and glib manner? Why are Capitol Hill staffers and postal workers treated differently? Both sets of people are federal employees, right? They both get their paychecks from Uncle Sam, don't they? So where's the difference?

Somebody please tell me that this double standard is just a mere oversight. Tell me that it will be corrected and that my father isn't risking his life just so a few credit card bills and the next issue of Victoria Secret can be delivered on time.

For one reason or another, postal employees have gotten a bad reputation over the years. They're constantly the punchline for many late-night talk show hosts. We've even added a new idiom to the American lexicon to describe an individual who goes insane and commits some act of violence - it's called "going postal."

Despite all these cock-eyed jokes, the truth is that postal employees are human beings and civil servants. Just like the men and women who serve in the military, federal government, or law enforcement, they are heroes too. And they deserve to be treated as such. The blatant lack of regard for employees' health and safety displayed by the bureaucrats at the United States Postal Service is not only disrespectful, but it's down right criminal.

The Postal Service can talk all they want about the new security measures that they are implementing or about the new safety precautions they are instituting. And they can spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. But until they fully eradicate the threat of anthrax from its facilities, no one is safe - not even my father.

Rodney Jay C. Salinas is President of the Rainmaker Political Group LLC, publishers of PoliticalCircus.com, an online source for political news and information for the Asian Pacific American community. He can be contacted at mail@rainmakerpolitical.com.