Trenton Metro Area Local

American Postal Workers Union


Bill Lewis, President


Chemical / Biological Agents in the Mail

Who is next?

Are we as a union prepared to assist our members?

The gloves and the masks are gone for most of us. Anthrax is a distant nightmare unless you are still living it. Day after day I hear of another scare; anthrax, ricin and bombs in the mail passing through the hands of our members.

The latest ricin crisis was not a false alarm. Was the APWU prepared to deal with another large-scale plant closing? Did we have the method or means locally to deliver the urgent messages to our membership on receiving medical treatment? What rights do they have and how will they deal with this issue?

How long before there is another postal worker killed, injured or before more lives are disrupted? Can we stop these terrorists? A difficult task, at best. Can we formulate plans to deal with these crises and assist our members? The answer is yes.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned during the anthrax attack was that the membership wants to be kept informed. Effective communication with your membership during any crisis is paramount. A true leader is someone who will step up and take charge during a disaster. People in general want someone to lead them during these perilous times. The USPS was absent from this role. They were unable to deliver the critical information in a timely manner because they had no means of conveying life saving messages to their employees. They did not have, nor did they earn, the trust of their employees.

As local leaders you must develop a quick method of delivering your message to the membership. An E-Mail list was created in Trenton and employees posted the E-Mail on makeshift bulletin boards. Over sixty percent of the Trenton members have E-Mail. The Postal Service became dependent upon the local’s E-Mail network to deliver the messages of where and when to receive the antibiotics so desperately needed to save lives. The local’s web page also played an important part in assisting delivery of important information. The local union office became the command post for all employees to call and receive up to date information.

The Postal Service was unable to reach employees during the Trenton anthrax attack. The local’s union membership list then came into play. Locals should update and maintain their membership lists and should also attempt to include member’s phone numbers and email addresses.

It is important that this information be maintained outside the Postal Facility. Once a facility is closed due to anthrax, or another biological/chemical agent, the facility becomes off limits and you cannot access your information. Grievances and other important information should be housed off site and away from these facilities.

Overall, the postal service failed miserably when it came to doing the right thing during the Trenton Anthrax Attack. Some of the “lowlights” are:

Postal Management must be held accountable for their actions, and the most effective method is to expose them in the media. Local unions should develop media contacts. The media wants to hear from the union with their version of the events. You must make it as humanistic as possible, detailing the hardships imposed upon employees, the illness, lack of medical care and lack of urgency on behalf of the Postal Service. A press release should be prepared and faxed or emailed to all the news stations and newspapers. The media is also a crucial element in my email network.

Another key is development of a relationship with your political leaders. This includes the mayor, city council, congresswomen/congressmen, senators and staff members. If and when a crisis hits, reach out to them to assist in getting the members the needed medical treatment and support. They will respond! This can effectively result in positive media coverage. As a priority, I keep all my elected officials updated through phone calls, emails and faxes.

Two days after the shut down of the anthrax contaminated P&DC a union meeting was held. The New Jersey Board of Health, US Postal Service and the APWU Safety and Health Department were all invited to update the members and to answer any of their medical questions. The following month the CDC was in attendance to bring them up to speed.

As you can see a comprehensive plan must be developed and implemented when a scare or attack takes place. I have raised this issue at many APWU assemblies as well as our state convention in NJ. All locals will require assistance, whether small or large. The APWU must also have an Emergency Preparedness Plan with representatives available to assist locals. This plan would include:

The locals should not rely upon Washington or the Regional Coordinators for assistance; they should provide what is necessary at the onset of the emergency.

These plans cannot be developed during the crisis or put into motion without careful and adequate preparation and proper funding.

With the deployment of the new Bio-Detection & Air Filtration Systems more plants will be subject to shut downs due to these systems’ activation. The new systems will detect DNA forcing the local health department to grow cultures to see if the spores are alive. This will definitely cause a disruption in the post office operations.