Going Postal

Going Postal by Slug Signorino

Going postal is an American slang phrase referring to becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment. The expression derives from a series of incidents from 1986 onward in which United States Postal Service (USPS) workers shot and killed managers, fellow workers, and members of the police or general public in acts of mass murder.

Between 1970 and 1997, more than 40 people were killed by current or former employees in at least 20 incidents of workplace rage. Between 1986 and 2011, workplace shootings happened roughly twice per year, with an average of 11.8 people killed per year.

The earliest known use of the phrase was on December 17, 1993, in the ‘St. Petersburg Times’: ‘The symposium was sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service, which has seen so many outbursts that in some circles excessive stress is known as ‘going postal.’ Thirty-five people have been killed in 11 post office shootings since 1983. The USPS does not approve of the term ‘going postal’ and has made attempts to stop people from using the saying. Some postal workers, however, feel it has earned its place.’

In one notable incidence in 1991, Royal Oak, Michigan, Thomas McIlvane killed five people, including himself, and injured five others with a rifle in Royal Oak’s post office, after being fired from the Postal Service for ‘insubordination.’ He had been previously suspended for getting into altercations with postal customers on his route.

For some time prior to the Royal Oak incident the service had experienced labor/management and operational problems and customer service complaints. This had drawn the attention of local media. The Office of Senator Carl Levin investigated Royal Oak, the results of which were summarized in a staff memorandum that documented ‘patterns of harassment, intimidation, cruelty and allegations of favoritism in promotions and demotions … [and] testimony relating to wide-ranging delivery and service problems’ prior to the McIlvane shooting.

Two shootings took place on the same day, May 6, 1993, a few hours apart. At a post office in Dearborn, Michigan, Lawrence Jasion wounded three and killed one, and subsequently killed himself. In Dana Point, California, Mark Richard Hilbun killed his mother and her dog, then shot two postal workers, killing one. As a result of these two shootings, in 1993 the USPS created 85 Workplace Environment Analysts for domicile at its 85 postal districts. These new positions were created to help with violence prevention and workplace improvement. In 2009, the USPS unilaterally eliminated these positions as part of its downsizing efforts.

In 1998, the United States Congress conducted a joint hearing to review the violence in the U.S. Postal Service. In the hearing, it was noted that despite the postal service accounting for less than 1% of the full-time civilian labor force, 13% of workplace homicides were committed at postal facilities by current or former employees.

In 2000, researchers found that the homicide rates at postal facilities were lower than at other workplaces. In major industries, the highest rate of 2.1 homicides per 100,000 workers per year was in retail. The homicide rate for postal workers was 0.22 per 100,000 versus 0.77 per 100,000 workers in general. The common depiction of an employee returning to work for revenge on his boss is overdone. More than half of mass workplace shootings are by current employees, and a little under a quarter are by employees who have been at their job for less than a year.

In the controversial video game series ‘Postal,’ the player takes on the role of an insane mass murderer in the first game, and in the later series a first-person role performing normally mundane chores (such as picking up a paycheck from work) with an often gratuitously violent twist. In 1997, the USPS sued the creators of the game, Running with Scissors, over the use of the term ‘postal.’ Running with Scissors argued that, despite its title, the game has absolutely nothing to do with the USPS or its employees. The case was dismissed with prejudice in 2003.

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