The U.S. Postal Service is requesting a 120-day exemption from complying with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s emergency order that all private-sector employers of 100 or more people require their workers to be get a coronavirus vaccine or submit to regular testing.
In a Jan. 4 letter to OSHA, Doug Tulino, the USPS’s Chief Human Resource Officer, warned that it feared a crippling exit of postal workers unless implementation of the policy was delayed for them.
“While the impact to our service could be devastating any time of year, requiring the Postal Service to absorb what could inevitably be a dramatic loss of employees at a time when the labor market is extremely tight and in the middle of the Postal Service’s peak season would have a potentially catastrophic impact on our ability to provide service to the American public when demand is at its highest,” he wrote.
Chuck Zlatkin, the legislative and political director for New York Metro Area Postal Union, said the prolonged public- health crisis was taking a toll on its members.
“Even people vaccinated and wearing a mask are still concerned that they may be bringing home the illness to their kids, to their elderly parents,” Mr. Zlatkin said. “And then there is their own health. And of course with Omicron, people know so many more people who have it, and to be quite frank, they don’t have confidence that management really cares about their well-being.”
He said postal workers deserved hazard pay, noting, “They don’t have the luxury of working from home."
Nearly 200 Died
In July, ProPublica reported that 55,600 postal workers had been infected with the virus and 193 had died.
The OSHA Emergency Temporary Standard was sscheduled to take effect Jan. 10 but is under review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The USPS executive seeking the four-month delay said the Post Office needed more time to legally and technically comply with the requirement “to collect information related to COVID-19 vaccination status, testing results and accommodation status.”
Mr. Tulino noted that USPS management had to negotiate with its unions the OSHA requirement “regarding compensation and leave related to employee vaccination, recovery from vaccine side effects, and testing.”
OSHA will not sanction employers for noncompliance with the testing requirements before Feb. 9.
Exodus Tied to Pay?
Frank Albergo, president of the Postal Police Officers Association, believes the USPS's anxiety over a potential exodus from its ranks can be traced back to its decision to create a two-tier workforce with a wide pay- and-benefit disparity. He pointed to the success of the Biden Administration in getting over 90 percent of the career federal civil service to comply with its vaccine mandate.
“The same postal unions that were responsible for delivering decent wages and benefits have now seen their work-forces inundated with non-career employees who receive hardly any meaningful benefits and are paid wages that are far less than that of their career postal employee counterparts,” he said. “Career government employees who are vested in their positions would not quit in droves over mandated vaccines,” he said. “They'd have too much to lose.”
He continued, “Simply put, a career postal employee earning $30-$40 plus dollars/hour will likely not resign due to a mandate—while the non-career postal employee earning $16-$17/hour with no benefits certainly would.”