Film recalls 1999 Royal Oak Post Office murder suicide

Royal Oak Post Office2

Movie Review

"Murder by Proxy: How America went Postal"
Directed By Emil Chiaberi
2010, 75 mins., unrated

ROYAL OAK, Mich. - Nineteen years ago on November 14th one of the country's more shocking examples of workplace violence took place at the Royal Oak Post Office. "Murder by Proxy," a documentary film examining workplace conditions that drive people to do extreme things, premiered last Monday, right around the corner from the post office where the murders and suicide took place.

As Director Emil Chiaberi said before the showing, the shooting of ten people (five, including the shooter died) "didn't have to happen."

"Sadly," he warns, "we haven't learned to prevent these killings. The very same conditions are coming back. This film is to remind us that it can happen again and not to ignore other people's pain. I hope it makes a difference."

In the 80's, the term "going postal" was mockingly used to describe workplace violence. It put emphasis on "malcontent workers," not the boiler cooker pressure people labor under, or the bullying led by a profit at all costs management.

The film puts the Royal Oak killings and other similar ones in the context of workplace changes that began in the 80's.

Early in his presidency, Ronald Reagan fired the Air Traffic Controllers, which ushered in a new and more serious attack on workers' rights on the job.

In addition, new technology was coming into manufacturing and offices, forcing people to work faster and faster. As one person in the film commented, "the body can't keep up with the machines." Companies wanted a lean and mean workplace. Workers were being squeezed to increase profits and CEO pay.

The "Proxy" in the movie's title reflects this "squeeze." Workplace killings are often driven by injustices and forces much larger than those who become a shooter's victims.

Problems quickly mounted for all postal workers in Royal Oak when the management group from the Indianapolis Post Office came north. This management group had previously been investigated by the General Accounting Office for abuses toward workers.

In Royal Oak, they zeroed in on the letter carrier, Tom McIlvane.

Charlie Withers is a letter carrier who since 1988 has been his union's steward. In the movie Withers said McIlvane "was a real good worker who loved his job," but the new management was used to getting their own way. They didn't like McIlvane because "he stuck up for himself and other workers."

They began to harass him. He was written up for "driving two miles over the speed limit" for his shorts being an inch too short; that he "gassed up his truck too early." Petty things that made his file thicker and thicker, said Withers.

Withers said these were rules any employee could have been accused of and were impossible not to break.

McIlvane was fired and not able to collect unemployment insurance. After 15 and one-half months without work and still waiting the outcome of his grievance, which was in arbitration, he returned to settle the score. Management received most of his fire.

After the movie Withers told this reporter that management should never have been "left off the hook" for their previous actions in Indianapolis.

Following the shooting, the remaining management was allowed to retire and receive Workmen's Compensation. No one from the union was allowed to retire or receive any compensation, said Withers.

Unbelievably, Withers said paid visits for therapy were limited to a maximum of six for union members.

He says there are still "ongoing problems." To force the Postal Service to address those problems and to take responsibility for what occurred in 1991, Withers started a campaign for "Accountability Day."

Since 1993, on every November 14th, the union lays a wreath outside the post office to both remember the victims and to call for the Postal Service to accept its share of responsibility.

Chiaberi sees workplace killings as an American phenomenon. The film strongly makes the point they are preventable.

It's featured in several film festivals and hopefully it will be coming to a screen near you.

Image: Royal Oak Post Office, John Rummel/PW.

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  • Another documentary is in the works about bullying in the work place "When Bullies become Bosses" check it out. It's not my site just think it's great what this guy is doing.

    Posted by Jon, 01/23/2015 5:37pm (10 months ago)

  • I knew Tom McIlvane when he was a boy hanging out with my younger brothers. I was stunned, as was everyone that day, by his actions. He was driven to the brink by bad management that went on and on without resolution. He took the wrong path but I understand his motives. He felt he had no recourse.

    As a member of the Michigan film industry, I would love to see this film.

    Posted by Lucie Bouchard, 12/20/2010 10:38am (5 years ago)

  • The supervisor that fired him was my FATHER!!!! I was eleven! I am now 31, and SHOCKED that this was emailed to me.

    Posted by Dawn, 12/05/2010 7:13pm (5 years ago)

  • Indiana Congressman Jacobs and Senator Luger played an instrumental part in
    promoting Carlile and his bullying cronies to Royal Oaks Michigan in 1988. The
    following statement was made in front of the Indianapolis Post Office prior to
    their transfer to Royal Oaks "I am not threatening anyone. You cannot treat
    people like that and get away with it. Somebody will kill those men if this is
    not stopped."

    How prophetic!

    The promotion of those men to Royal was arrogant and criminal.

    The true story that started in Indianapolis has been suppressed for two

    The novel by John Benjamin Carn (An Indianapolis Post Office Employee) STRESSED
    OUT - 1988 is a testimony to the validity of abuse. There is much that has not
    been addressed.

    Thank you for your concern.

    Philip R. Woolman
    7929 10th Ave.
    Kenosha, WI 53143

    Posted by Philip Woolman, 11/26/2010 12:15am (5 years ago)

  • It is clear that Postal management treated this worker unfairly and made his life before and after the firing pure hell. In a more just society, Postal management would have been held accountable.

    The fact that workers covered by the labor agreement were given far less therapy after this tragic event is evidence of the disdain Postal management has for it's workers. Again this should not be allowed to occur, especially since the U.S. Postal Service is a publicly funded entity.

    Workers who are pushed to the melt down point will react just like soldiers coming home from war. It would appear that a more humane work environment is in order here, but under capitalism that's not going to happen. WORKERS NEED TO ORGANIZE & RESIST THIS DISRESPECT & INDIGNITY!

    Posted by Pancho Valdez, 11/23/2010 4:12pm (5 years ago)

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