Study alleges racism at Postal ServiceA study...


Study alleges racism at Postal Service

A study finding racial discrimination in the Boston office of the U.S. Postal Service jibes with the experience of Baltimore postal workers, says a postal union's local president. But postal officials say the study is flawed.

In a study of 2,400 postal workers in Boston, Craig Zwerling, an assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Iowa, and Hilary Silver, a Brown University sociologist, found that blacks were twice as likely as whites to be fired between 1986 and 1989.

The professors also found that blacks were disciplined more harshly even though they didn't have, on average, worse disciplinary, accident or absentee records.

Mark Saunders, a spokesman for the Postal Service in Washington, says no conclusions should be drawn from the study because it isn't statistically valid.

"All the employees were fired for legitimate reasons," he says, adding that the service denies that it discriminates.

The authors dispute the Postal Service's claims.

Dr. Zwerling says the results had been reviewed by 10 sociologists and were validated statistically. "There is less than one in 1,000 likelihood that this occurred by chance," he adds.

Although the study focused only on Boston workers, Dr. Silver says he believes it reflects broader treatment of blacks.

A union study of the Internal Revenue Service, for example, found similar disparities across the country, she says.

Baltimore postal workers say their experience supports the study's findings.

Henry "Hank" Putty, president of the Baltimore local of the American Postal Workers Union, says disproportionately harsh treatment of black workers "has been a problem for quite a while."

"I know I have more disciplinary actions against minorities than others. . . . And I would say eight out of 10 removals [firings] are black," Mr. Putty said.

Employers watch IPA costs skyrocket

Barbara Sabin, office manager of Preheat Welding Co. Inc. in Gaithersburg, thought she had worked a small miracle when she ditched the company's increasingly expensive standard health insurance and found a money-saving alternative that would still pay 100 percent of the workers' health costs.

She found an independent practice association (IPA), in which a doctors' group contracts with companies to provide care for a set fee per patient. "It was a cheaper rate. The savings were fantastic," she says.

But after the first year, prices for the IPA started skyrocketing. And this year, she says, they reached the realm of science fiction.

"It is unbelievable. Last year, IPA family coverage cost $463 per worker. Next year, they want$831. . . . It's totally ridiculous," she fumes.

TTC Her story isn't unique. A study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington found that alternatives to traditional health insurance are rising in price faster than traditional insurance. And many have become more expensive than the standard insurance they were designed to beat.

Headhunting slump is good news for some

Headhunters say their business stalled this summer, but that might not be bad news for everyone -- especially executives with jobs.

Executive recruiters, who split their time between filling vacancies and looking for the replacements of current corporate presidents and vice presidents, said inquiries fell about 5 percent in the mid-Atlantic region in the third quarter.

The local numbers matched the national trend, said Glenn H. Van Doren, spokesman for the Association of Executive Search Consultants, a New York-based trade organization.

The summer drop might not signal a general downturn, though. The headhunting business for both the region and nation is still up over last year, he said.

Mr. Van Doren said the most activity for recruiters -- hence the most turmoil -- involves chief executive officers, especially those in the financial field.

Food Lion workers can join lawsuits

A federal judge has ruled that some current and former employees of Food Lion Inc. grocery stores who believe they were illegally forced to work off the clock can join lawsuits against the company.

Workers in several states, including Maryland, have complained that managers gave them more work than they could perform in their shift, and then warned that they would be fired for putting in for overtime pay -- forcing them to finish their duties on their own time.

This week, James C. Fox, a federal District Court judge in Raleigh, N.C., said he would open some suits to other employees who also want to file overtime claims.

Eligible to join the suits are people employed by Food Lion since Oct. 16, 1989, in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Virginia or Tennessee who were not store managers, cashiers or baggers.

Mike Mozingo, a spokesman for Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion, said that the U.S. Department of Labor has found evidence of some workers working off the clock, but that the company tries to prevent the practice.

Mr. Mozingo said the problem was "rare" and that the trouble was being stirred up by a union trying to organize the rapidly growing grocery story chain.

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