Tia Schneider Denenberg is an arbitrator and mediator and the 1992 recipient of the AAA’s Distinguished Service Award.
Richard V. Denenberg is a writer and editor specializing in dispute resolution and other public policy issues.
Mark Braverman, Ph.D., is a consulting psychologist who has advised the U.S. Postal Service and other major employers on violence prevention.
Susan Braverman, M.S.W., is an occupational mental health specialist and designer of crisis intervention programs.
The authors are principals in Workplace Solutions, a project of the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, supported by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. This article is adapted from their forthcoming book, Fear and Loathing on the Job: Coping with Workplace Violence and Hostility (Cornell University Press).
On Nov. 8, 1991, Thomas McIlvane, a discharged United States Postal Service letter carrier armed with a loaded semiautomatic rifle, entered the Main Post Office in Royal Oak, Michigan, from an unsecured rear loading dock.1 He strode purposefully through the building, climbing the stairs to the management offices on the second floor. Seeking out supervisors who had been responsible for his discipline, McIlvane fired more than 100 rounds, hitting eight people before taking his own life. Four of his victims, including a principal witness in his arbitration case, died.
The massacre at Royal Oak no doubt can be traced to several factors, but it is worth asking: Did the system for resolving disciplinary disputes play a part in this tragedy? Could it be related to the parties’ failure to head off the looming disaster?