Now, Deliver Later
by Rodney Jay C. Salinas
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
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
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
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.