One Beltway Center
5904 Richmond Highway
Alexandria, VA 22303-1864
February 19, 2009
Charles Mapa, President
By now most of you have heard that Naps President Ted Keating presented the Postal service a letter asking for the removal of Western Area Vice President Sylvester Black and Dakotas District Manager Clem Felchle for remarks made during telecoms with their subordinates. I have been holding off commenting here as part of my President’s Message in the hopes that the Postal Service would take some sort of action by now. I’ve sent out e-mails to those on our e-mail network to update them on this situation. We’ve heard nothing from the Postal Service yet, they’ve got big decisions to make regarding this issue; maybe it is understandable that they may be investigating this situation. According to reports, as detailed in Mr. Keating’s letter, Mr. Black said, “Some managers ought to be taken out and executed”. Let that soak in a little. An Area Vice President of the United States Postal Service made that remark. Apparently, Mr. Felchle was quoting his boss, Mr. Black, in repeating those remarks in a telecom (which was recorded) to his subordinates.
I was in attendance when Ted presented his letter to the Postal Service. I was asked then what I would do in the way of discipline if the allegations were true. I responded that the Postal Service needed to hold these individuals to the same high standards that it holds its Postmasters and supervisors. I asked, “What would you do if a Postmaster or supervisor made these remarks?” I believe that these statements should not be taken lightly. The work atmosphere for Postmasters, supervisors and other managers is supercharged. When times aren’t so tough, these remarks are unacceptable; now, when nerves are at the snapping point, they are even less appropriate. I hope the Postal Service will make a decision soon as the eyes and ears of every employee are waiting to see and hear how this situation will be addressed.
This is a good time to address an even more serious problem that I’ve spoken about several times over the last few years. The management style embraced by many, many areas and districts throughout this country is sick. Mr. Black’s remarks are just a symptom of the ailment. Mr. Black’s remarks are the first that we are being forced to review publicly. Part of this style is to systematically berate, belittle and humiliate subordinates, including POOMs, Postmasters, and supervisors. All the things that we were taught growing up about positive interpersonal relationships have been thrown out the window; instead, those things have been replaced by the bullying techniques that supposedly get results. They get results all right; the results include disheartened managers surrendering to the will-sapping, abusive, autocratic, micromanagement practiced by their superiors in the areas and districts. We’ve identified in our society that abused children often become abusing adults. Is that abusive management style something we want to perpetuate in the Postal Service? We are supposed to be better than that. God forbid that a Postmaster comes up with an original idea; in our postal world, there is no room for one. My National Vice President Deb Egemo has described the atmosphere created in some districts as ‘toxic’, and so it is. Retired EAP representative, Stephen Musacco, in his book, Beyond Going Postal (this book is a good read for all postal employees) also terms the postal management work climate as toxic. To him, toxic is any work situation that negatively affects a person’s physical or psychological health. That certainly does sound like the Postal Service. How many of us have Postmaster and supervisor friends that have either neared or had a nervous breakdown caused by postal toxins?
Now that this issue has come to the forefront it is time for us to demand that something be done about it. When my district manager was removed (promoted) for instituting an abusive, hostile work environment, part of the remedy was to get outside experts into the district to retrain the district’s midlevel managers in proper management techniques. They had to be purged of the threatening, demeaning, humiliating practices that they had been encouraged to use. The Postal Service needs to take some time to identify those offending areas and districts and retrain deficient managers in proper techniques. We need to get rid of the bullies that are untrainable and replace them with real leaders. We deal effectively with people that make racial or sexual remarks; we need to do the same with the bullies. We need to encourage supervisors and Postmasters to challenge abusive, threatening managers. My friend, Naps Executive Vice President Louis Atkins has suggested that it be required that all telecoms be recorded and the recordings filed away. That’s a good idea. All of us know that our demeanor changes when we think someone we don’t want to be listening is listening. Postmasters and supervisors need to get as little bolder. If they are on a telecom where the tone becomes abusive or threatening, it would be right to say, “Inappropriate”. Who’s going to know who made the remark? If these telecoms are especially hostile and threatening, let me remind you that you have recourse to the OIG hotline. These calls to the OIG are confidential.
Like a cancer, this sick type of management has been festering and growing for years. I challenge Jack Potter and the Postal Service to walk the talk of Dignity and Respect. That term rings pretty hollow in light of how we manage our organization. It is time to actually make the changes necessary to root out abusive management. The League commits to working with our fellow management associations and the Postal Service to come up with a process to help us manage the way a world-class organization should manage. Ignoring this problem, sweeping it under the rug, will not make it go away. We’ve got to fix it now!
President, National League of Postmasters