'It's a raw deal - Congress closed, but we kept going'

War on terrorism: Workers
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The Independent US

Gail and Tamara were not impressed. They had just been told by their managers at the Postal Service of the steps being put in place to try to counter the anthrax threat, but for the two friends the action simply called to mind the old adage: "Too little, too late."

"I think that we have got a raw deal. The letter came through the Post Office. They closed down the Congress but they kept us going," said Gail Saxton, a Washington postal worker for 25 years, as she left the car park of the Brentwood depot yesterday.

"They should have taken us for testing. They lost nobody. We have lost two family members."

These are troubling times for Washington's postal workers, and none more so than for the 2,300 employees based at Brentwood – the regional distribution headquarters that handled the notorious "infected letter" and where 14 out of 29 locations within the now closed facility have tested positive for anthrax spores. Two of their "family" lie dead from anthrax infection, another two are seriously ill and who knows how many others may have been exposed to the bacteria.

But what is increasingly troubling those here and the 10,000 or more postal workers across the capital who have been told they need to take antibiotics to guard against infection is the realisation that all of this was preventable: the shock and the fear of what might happen have been replaced by anger and disbelief about what did not happen.

Why, they ask, if the letter addressed to the Senate leader Tom Daschle – which led to about 30 people at the Capitol being exposed to anthrax – passed through Brentwood, was the depot not closed?

Why, they ask, if it was felt necessary to test 5,000 Capitol Hill staff last week, was it not felt necessary to test the postal workers last week. Why, they ask, did it have to take two deaths? "I think it is racial. Most of the postal workers are black," said Mrs Saxton, who like her friend Tamara Richardson, describes herself as African-America. "I hate to say it but it's true. They had to know that that letter came through Brentwood."

Mrs Richardson, a postal worker for 23 years, said the way she and her colleagues had been treated made her feel like a second-class citizen.

The authorities would adamantly deny that their response to the anthrax outbreaks – even if those responses differed – was based on race. They are probably correct but the comments of those workers coming out of the Brentwood depot are indicative of the anger and frustration felt by thousands of their colleagues.