NEW YORK, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- Five mail-sorting machines contaminated with anthrax in the Morgan Processing and Distribution Center in Manhattan will start up again soon, postal officials said Tuesday. However, the postal union said it wished it had the authority to organize a strike.
The New York Metro Area Postal Union lost its federal lawsuit to keep the facility that sorts 12.5 million pieces of mail a day closed until the entire building can be cleaned and retested for anthrax.
William Smith, president of the postal union, who is barred by federal law to call a strike, said he is organizing unions nationwide for a demonstration during the holiday season.
According to Smith, unless the legal decision is appealed, postal workers have no recourse and must work at the facility. The federal judge did require that the James A. Farley General Post Office, adjoined by the Morgan Center by a tunnel, be tested for anthrax. The results of the testing are not yet available.
Manhattan postal officials said absenteeism is at 14 percent, down from a high of 30 percent 10 days ago when it was discovered that letters containing anthrax may have contaminated the machines and other pieces of mail. Before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, absenteeism at the Morgan Center was about 7 percent. No New York City postal workers have been diagnosed with anthrax, but about 7,000 postal workers were able to take antibiotics.
However, Christmas will not be canceled for many city children because of anthrax mail fears. The U.S. Postal Service said Tuesday that it will have all letters addressed to Santa in New York City irradiated by ion beams.
The same contractor in Bridgeport, N.J., used to sanitize mail addressed to government agencies will irradiate the more than 400,000 letters addressed to Santa. The postal service is willing to take on the decontamination procedure because the mail addressed to Santa fits the profile of mail to avoid -- no return address, strange handwriting, taped envelopes.
"Operation Santa Claus" dates back to the 1920s when New York City postal workers answered some of the letters addressed to Santa and now each year about 30,000 New Yorkers pick up a letter to Santa in a bin in the lobby of the James A. Farley Post Office in Manhattan and fulfill a child's Christmas wish.
Sen. Robert Torricelli, a Democrat from New Jersey, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, inserted $2 billion in the $66 billion economic stimulus packed being considered by the Senate for a new New Jersey/New York rail tunnel under the Hudson River.
Both New York and New Jersey have wanted to build a new rail tunnel estimated to cost up to $5 billion for quite a while. The package must still be negotiated by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
The current rail tunnel under the Hudson was built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1910 and is owned by Amtrak. It carries commuter trains and Amtrak trains. Studies have shown that in an emergency, responders would have difficulty reaching the tunnel and passengers would have difficulty fleeing.
Gov. George E. Pataki will hold a town hall meeting on security issues in the Monroe Lecture Hall at Hofstra University in Hempstead on Thursday that will be televised night. The governor's office said the television stations that will carry the meeting will not be finalized until Thursday.
"Our nation is in the midst of a new type of war and, for the first time since the Civil War, the front lines are within our own borders," Pataki said. "By being safe, smart, and secure, New Yorkers can meet the new challenges we face since Sept. 11."
New York State's Project Liberty, a program to provide free crisis counseling services to individuals in the New York City area who are having difficulty coping with the events of Sept. 11 will provide counseling at work, in school, at home, wherever people are most comfortable.
"The events of Sept. 11 have caused extraordinary stress on many Americans and in particular New Yorkers whose lives have been forever altered," Pataki said. "Project Liberty is in place to help individuals who may need assistance returning to their pre-disaster lives."
The crisis counseling program, funded by a $22.7 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is a collaboration involving the New York State Office of Mental Health, local governments and providers of crisis counseling services.
The state Office of Mental Health has contracted with individuals who have special expertise in disaster recovery and trauma in terrorist incidents to act as advisors and trainers. In addition, the state is coordinating specialized training sessions for mental health providers participating in Project Liberty.
For more information about Project Liberty, or to arrange for services, individuals can call 1-800-LIFENET or visit the Project Liberty web site at www.projectliberty.state.ny.us.
According to city officials no figures on the World Trade Center were available Tuesday.
Monday, city officials said:
-- 3,633 declared missing by police
-- 632 have been declared dead
-- no number for bodies identified
-- 457,786 tons of rubble removed
-- 103,804 tons of steel removed
-- 561,170 total tons of debris removed
-- 34,517 truckloads of debris moved
(Reporting by Alex Cukan in Albany, N.Y.)