Almost twice as many black postal workers are disciplined for job-related misconduct or absenteeism as are white employes, according to partial results of a study under way by the government's largest agency, the U.S. Postal Service.
In most cases, according to the study, supervisors who recommend some kind of disciplinary action are themselves black.
USPS has 669,000 employes, and is one of the nation's largest employers of minorities. According to the Postal Service, 20.6 percent of its career workforce is black.
Earlier this year the Postal Service began a study of 19,000 disciplinary actions--some going back three years--in 20 of its largest offices, including three Washington area facilities. Besides the District, Prince George's County and Northern Virginia facilities, other offices surveyed included Brooklyn, Hartford, Newark, the New York foreign bulk mail center, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, North Suburban Illinois, Atlanta, Charlotte, Houston, Miami, San Antonio, Denver, Los Angeles, Oakland and Seattle.
In many of those offices, employing a total of 90,000 people, the majority of the workforce is black.
The purpose of the study is to see who is being disciplined, by race and job, and for what.
Most of the disciplinary actions, ranging from reprimands to suspensions and dismissals, were for unauthorized absenteeism or abuse of leave. Clerks and mail handlers were disciplined more often than letter carriers.
In a preliminary report to managers, Postmaster General William F. Bolger said that "one of the major focuses of the study is to analyze why minorities are discplined at a higher rate than nonminorities."
The report data shows that:
Blacks who represent 57 percent of the workforce got 66 percent of the disciplinary actions in those offices studied.
Whites in those offices make up 53 percent of the workforce, and got 34 percent of the disciplinary actions.
Blacks got 69 percent of the absence-related disciplinary actions, while white workers got 31 percent.
For other offenses (not releated to absence) blacks received 59 percent of the disciplinary actions and whites got 41 percent.
Sixty two percent of the first-level supervisors, those in closest contact with workers, are black and 38 percent are white.
At the next highest level of authority, 54 percent of the supervisors are black and 48 percent are white.
Bolger told managers that the study shows that absenteeism is the major disciplinary problem, and that there is "no evidence that the discipline system operates to systematically discriminate against a group of employees without regard to their performace.
"That is not to say that we, as managers, cannot do a better job in managing employees, or that isolated instances of improper discipline do not take place."
But, he added, such problems are usually corrected through the service's appeals process.
Robert L. White, president of the predominately black National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees, said he has seen the partial study and "I would say the assessment is not far off, although there are instances of discrimination in making disciplinary actions . . . we see that every day."
White said that "black supervisors in many instances are harder on black employes." He said that many supervisors are "gung ho to come down hard" and that in the case of black supervisors with a large number of black employes, "a lot of black supervisors make sure they are not giving advantages to black workers."
Postal officials said the survey is still under way and final results are expected later this year.