- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 25, 2001

Sixty postal workers walked off their job at a Gaithersburg mail-processing center Tuesday night after they discovered a suspicious letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
Mr. Daschle's office was the recipient of an earlier anthrax-laced letter.
Although a hazardous-materials team decided within an hour that the letter was most likely a hoax, it was not enough assurance for the District- and Gaithersburg-based workers at the center.
The Gaithersburg plant has been handling mail for both areas since the closure of the District's Brentwood facility, which tested positive for anthrax spores and has become a crime scene after two employees there died of inhalation anthrax this week.
"The D.C. people were so frightened they were crying after all, they lost two co-workers," said Tammy Thompson, vice president of the American Postal Workers Union Local 3630. "They said: 'They found a letter again and they are going to wait again,'" she said of the postal officials, who have been criticized for their response to the Brentwood contamination.
The fear and uncertainty spread quickly, said Miss Thompson, who was working at the plant when a mail handler operating a cancellation machine spotted the suspicious letter about 8 p.m.
The envelope which was dirty and had a lump at one end, she said had a D.C. postmark and Bryan, Texas, as return address.
"How she found that letter is beyond me," Miss Thompson said. "She had a sharp eye. It could easily have gone by and no one would have been the wiser."
An analysis completed late yesterday determined that the granular substance in the envelope was candy, plant manager Jeffrey A. Becker said.
Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesman Pete Piringer said the letter was forwarded to the FBI for further testing.
Managers on duty when the letter was found allowed workers who chose not to finish their shift to use leave time, Miss Thompson said.
But she said she believes most workers will not return until the building is tested. About half of the workers did not show up for their shift last night, said Calvin Wilder, a mail processor. He said there was a lot of tension in the building.
Mr. Becker said he had requested and received approval for environmental tests at the facility.
An employee also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began taking samples around the plant late yesterday afternoon, while workers processed mail.
Still, some postal workers say checking the Gaithersburg facility is not enough.
Kenneth Lerch, vice president of the National Association of Letter Carriers Local 3825, wants facilities that receive mail from the Gaitherburg plant where District and Capitol Hill mail is being processed also to be tested.
"That would allay the fear and it would be smart for the country and the public they'd know the mail was safe, too," Mr. Lerch said. "But the answer we're getting from management is the CDC won't allow it."
Postal workers around the region have complained that although they are the first to come into contact with mail, efforts to protect them have been less than those taken to ensure the safety of politicians, staffers and reporters on Capitol Hill and at the White House.
Rockville-based letter carrier Damita Stiff said it's unfair that testing is not available during work hours to all postal employees.
Meanwhile, some postal workers who have not yet been given gloves and masks by their employers are buying their own, expecting to get reimbursed.
"You can't wait on the postal service this thing is scary," Miss Thompson said. She added she's disturbed at hearing that some mail is being irradiated to kill bacteria after it leaves Gaithersburg.
"It's also kind of backwards, very backwards," she said.
Monica Hand, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Postal Service, said she had no knowledge of mail being irradiated and would not be able to find out last night.

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