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Shooting Aftermath: Postal Service to Review Backgrounds of All Workers

November 15, 1991

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. (AP) _ The Postal Service will review the backgrounds of all of the nation’s 750,000 postal employees, the postmaster general announced Friday, one day after a fired postman killed four bosses and then himself.

Postmaster General Anthony Frank also established a national hot line for employees to report threats and ordered a thorough review of the screening and hiring process used by the agency.

Frank said it would be difficult to stop a person intent on murder, but said the Postal Service must search for ways to avoid dangerous situations.

Since 1985, 28 U.S. postal workers have died in five separate shootings - all by embittered post office colleagues who used weapons to settle old scores. On Thursday, former Royal Oak letter carrier Thomas McIlvane opened fire with a sawed-off, semiautomatic rifle, killing four supervisors and wounding five other former co-workers. He then killed himself.

Postal employees said McIlvane had threatened to return to his workplace with a gun, and they told of arguments between other postal workers and their bosses at the main office in Royal Oak.

″When you look at each one of them, you don’t find the threat,″ Frank said at a news conference. ″Let me be brutal. If we had a police officer at the back dock in this case, we would have had one more dead.

″These are public buildings. I don’t think you can make them hermetically sealed. We can’t make 40,000 post offices armed camps.″

McIlvane, a 31-year-old ex-Marine, died early Friday from a self-inflicted gunshot wound and doctors removed his organs for transplants. His fourth victim also died Friday.

McIlvane apparently was enraged by news that an arbitrator had upheld his July 1990 dismissal for falsifying his time card.

Postal officials said they were aware of lingering friction between management and employees at the Royal Oak post office, about 10 miles northwest of Detroit, and were investigating.

Just before the shooting, complaints about poor service and morale at the post office had prompted a congressional investigation.

Rep. William Broomfield, R-Mich., requested an audit last month of the Royal Oak Service Center and the post offices under its jurisdiction by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Consumers have grumbled about late mail, removal of collection boxes and shoddy service, he said. Postal employees have complained of ″management and policy decisions that have disrupted service and depressed morale,″ Broomfield said.

Frank said he would ask postal worker unions to re-examine grievance policies and retool them to give employees a greater voice in personnel disputes.

The Postal Service has begun a pilot survey about on-the-job hostilities and frustrations. It will expand the survey to all 750,000 workers nationwide in March, Frank said.

The Royal Oak postmaster, Dan Presilla, is taking a leave of absence. But Charles Wilson, the Postal Service’s Michigan inspector in charge, said he doubted any probe would produce satisfying answers.

″We don’t have the answers to all the different questions that may be posed,″ Wilson said. ″Indeed, we may never have the answers.

″All of us are looking for logical answers to a very illogical event.″

About 100 letter carriers and other employees met with superiors at the Royal Oak Public Library, where they hashed out differences in a heated session.

″We had a general meeting where employees could vent their frustrations with their supervisors,″ said Kenneth Coppock, a volunteer with Royal Oak Victim Assistance. ″There were periods when it got highly emotional.″

The post office remained closed, but employees were asked to return to work Saturday. Yellow police tape surrounded the building, red flowers were placed across its front steps and the flag outside flew at half-staff.

Some postal workers said they weren’t surprised about McIlvane.

″They rode you all the time,″ 15-year employee Dave Chesnutt said. ″You couldn’t even use the bathroom unless it was your break. They sent a guy home this morning for whistling, for whistling 3/8

″You could almost feel it there, the tension was building almost every day. You can’t laugh, you can’t talk to your neighbor. It’s just ridiculous.″

Other workers said McIlvane had threatened to return with a gun if he weren’t reinstated. Those threats had been forwarded to U.S. Postal Service authorities and led to the revocation of McIlvane’s permit to carry a concealed weapon, Oakland County Prosecutor Richard Thompson said.

Wilson, Michigan’s chief postal inspector, said the Postal Service never heard about the pointed threats and uncovered nothing in its internal investigations that could have been used to prosecute McIlvane.

″We were aware of a concern by employees about Mr. McIlvane’s behavior,″ Wilson said. ″He was profane and abusive. But none of these complaints were of the magnitude for us to prosecute him.″

McIlvane, promoted in 1986 to letter carrier after a year as post office custodian, had been investigated in April 1989 for verbally assaulting a postal customer, Wilson said. He wasn’t disciplined in that incident.

Some residents of the city of 70,000 expressed empathy for McIlvane, a man they said simply went too far in venting workplace frustrations.

″It’s employer harassment. It’s going on all over the country,″ said Rocco Romano, 72. ″You get to a point where you can just take so much. (McIlvane) went too far, but I understand. I’ve been harassed. I’ve lost arbitration.″

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EDITOR’S NOTE - The Postal Service employee hotline is 1-800-654-8896.

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