Did you know prior to August 2, 1968 that it was not a federal offense to assault a letter carrier? And, did you know that because of efforts of the National Association of Letter Carriers the law was changed to our benefit?
It's true. The only employees of the Post Office Department protected by federal laws before Thaddeus J. Dulski, (D-NY) introduced a resolution extending federal protection were postal inspectors. Rep. Dulski, Chairman of the House Committee on Post Office and Civil Service, in early 1968 introduced H.R. 15837 after speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives in defense of protection for postal employees, especially letter carriers who have been assaulted while preforming their duties. He said:
"This matter has been of special concern to the members of the National Association of Letter Carriers with whom I have consulted in some detail in preparing this legislation. There is urgent necessity to provide full protection for the letter carriers who walk our streets and corridors. They are particularly vulnerable to assaults and threats because of the nature of their duties."
Rep. Dulski turned to quotes from the January 1998 Postal Record reading about attacks on letter carriers. From the most serious attacks – carriers being beaten and robbed to dog owners reacting violently against letter carriers protecting themselves by spraying Halt on their dogs.
In the February 21, 1968 NALC Bulletin No. 4, carriers were instructed by the NALC to report all assaults to their postmasters promptly suggesting the PM contact the Inspection Service. Until any law was enacted it was the letter carriers' responsibility to take civil action.
Attacks on carriers were not rare, and one of the most vicious reported came in 1967 when Jack Pasternack, member of Brooklyn, NY NALC Branch No. 41, was beaten to death while performing his duties. Brother Pasternack died following a two month coma.
Because he died after enactment of public law 90-206, a law which the NALC helped produce, his wife received a $40,000 life insurance payment (double indemnity), 70 percent of Brother Pasternack's wages until the children reached age 18, and 45 percent of his salary the rest of her life.
It was announced in the March 21 NALC Bulletin the POD joined the NALC in supporting HR 15387. During testimony Jack Leventhal, President NALC Branch No. 41, gave the Subcommittee a record of 23 individual assaults which "have occurred in Brooklyn over the past year."
While the legislation appeared headed for enactment into law, it did have a few who opposed the change. Representative Waldie of California argued that the federal government should not interfere with the authority of state and local law enforcement officials.
This comment left then Vice President James H. Rademacher, NALC, pointing to the current law.
"The law which now provides up to a $5,000 fine and possible imprisonment for any person convicted of assaulting or impeding a postal inspector. He compared this type of penalty to the punishment meted out recently by the court in Houston, Texas where a patron who had severely beaten a letter carrier was fined only $25."
The House passed the bill 333 - 5 on May 20 sending it to the Senate for hearings and a vote. The five dissenting votes came from Congressmen Brown, Burton, and Waldie, California, and Ottinger and Rosenthal, New York.
Even while awaiting final congressional approval it was reported three more letter carriers were assaulted. Thomas Overage, a carrier in Chicago was beaten and robbed by three gunmen who leaped into his truck; A.R. Bernal, Kansas City, MO, was savagely beaten by a patron in an assault following mistaken identity; and Mrs. Betty Walker, Dayton, OH, was stoned by school children as she made her deliveries. A letter carrier in Louisville, KY was murdered while making his deliveries.
On June 26 a Senate Subcommittee heard about three letter carrier deaths over the past six months, and more than 100 assaults during the previous year.
Brother Rademacher vigorously objected to the fact the mail is protected but the mailman is not as he testified before the Senate.
"There is a great sickness sweeping the nation – with its manifestations being complete disrespect for law and order, a contempt for human life, a total disregard for the rights of other human beings, and a fatal tendency to resort to violence as the means of settling even the most petty difference," he said.
The final bill signed into law under Title 18 was very plain:
"Sec. 2. Section 1114 of title 18, United States Code, is amended by striking out "any post-office inspector," and inserting in lieu thereof "any postal inspector, any postmaster, officer, or employee in the field service of the Post Office Department."
Public Law 90-449 just importantly amended Title 39 of the Code. That change reads:
"To amend title 39, United States Code, to provide for disciplinary action against employees in the postal field service who assault other employees in such service in the performance of official duties, and for other purposes."
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That
(a) the portion of chapter 41 of title 39, United States Code, under the heading "EMPLOYEES GENERALLY" is amended by adding immediately following section 3107 thereof the following new section:
"§ 3108. Disciplinary action against employees who assault other employees
"The Postmaster General may take appropriate disciplinary action, including, when circumstances warrant, suspension from duty without pay, reduction in pay, demotion, or removal from the service, against any employee who forcibly assaults any other employee while such other employee is engaged in the performance of his official duties or on account of the performance by such other employee of his official duties."
(b) That part of the table of contents of chapter 41 of title 39, United States Code, under the heading "EMPLOYEES GENERALLY" is amended by adding –
"3108. Disciplinary action against employees who assault other employees," immediately below – "3107. Postal employees relocation expenses".
Brother Green is a 26 year member of Summit City Branch No. 116, Fort Wayne, IN. He is editor of The Summit City Mailbag, and a union steward at the Hazelwood Station, Fort Wayne.