The newspaper business is notorious for describing an evil, then walking away from it without offering even a hint of a solution. Today, we offer a hint worthy of the name, thanks to an Arlington secretary named Jean Bower.
She read a Levey item last month that concerned a female federal employee with boss trouble. The woman had been called in by the Honcho (male, of course) and told that she "just didn't fit" with his management style. Honcho suggested that the woman leave voluntarily, and immediately. Otherwise, he told her, he'd make her life so miserable that she'd wish she had left right away.
My advice to the woman was to pursue the issue and the Honcho through legal and union grievance channels. I also suggested that she not hang around, for the sake of her mental health. However, Jean Bower has offered a third choice: a support group of, by and for women in the same boat, or perhaps about to be.
Jean's main credential is personal experience. She "endured similar treatment 15 years ago while with a large government agency," she writes, "and can tell you that the supervisor can harass her to the point of a near breakdown."
Jean hopes to collect and serve up "moral support and advice on how to get started" on filing a formal grievance. She cautions (and I underscore this caution) that she is not a lawyer, and is not trying to represent herself as an expert or an authority. Jean simply hopes to prove that there's strength in numbers, particularly unfairly aggrieved numbers. Interested parties should write to Jean at P.O. Box 15401, Arlington, Va. 22215-0401.
The mail on the Honcho incident wasn't the usual 50-50. It was more like 33 1/3-33 1/3-33 1/3.
The first third of you correspondents praised me to the skies for suggesting that the Honcho's victim look for a graceful (and financially comforting) exit, rather than fighting to keep her job.
"Get out and forget it is a good idea," wrote "Been There From Northern Virginia." Added Jim Locuto, of Arlington: "You have to keep the human factor in mind. How can she ever work for or around this guy again? She'll crack before he will, and that'll give him the satisfaction he's looking for."
The second third took me to task for advocating what seemed to them a quick surrender.
"I have worked too long in organized labor to let you get away with your advice," wrote "Make 'em Pay Mike," of Bowie. "She should twist every screw, push every button, make this guy as miserable as she can by bringing down on him the full weight of the internal process."
A similar thought came from "Beth of Bethesda." "How can you suggest that she give away her one piece of leverage -- her job?" Beth asked. "The minute she leaves and lets lawyers fight for her, she has lost the moral high ground, not to mention the tactical advantage."
The final third of the mail came from fellow government workers who had other ideas about how to proceed within the system.
"She should contact the Equal Employment Opportunity counselors in her organization or the Merit Protection Service Board," suggested Jonathon Julius, of Laurel. "She has certain rights as a federal employee, and these folks will provide her with the help, guidance and protection that she needs to fight this jerk."
Martin McCall, a civilian employee of the Defense Department, said that the Honcho's victim might be able to plant a time bomb in his personnel folder. "She can file an official statement in his personnel jacket, which they'll have to at least read the next time he comes up for a promotion or a raise," Martin wrote. "I've been around a long time, and I can tell you that such letters often spell the difference."
Good points all, readers, and thanks for them.
Zianna Gray, of Alexandria, is my early nominee for the superstition award of 1991. She moved to the head of the pack on Jan. 1, while shopping at a Safeway near her home.
Zianna's tab totalled $19.91, on 1/1/91. Zianna says it was a good omen. Let's hope.
Can anyone beat this for sheer, perverse self-contradiction?
A Fairfax reader who prefers that I not publish her name was on a car trip recently. Luckily, she brought along her camera and took a photo of the evidence. If she hadn't, I might not have believed it.
What raised such a ruckus? A set of route signs alongside an interstate highway near Wytheville, Va. From left to right, they read:
SOUTH, Interstate 77.
NORTH, Interstate 81.
NORTH, U.S. 11.
SOUTH, U.S. 52.
All side by side.