The U.S. Postal Service is requesting that the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine requirements for federal workers be temporarily waived for its 650,000 employees, saying enforcing the rules could jeopardize its ability to deliver the mail.
The warning from Deputy Postmaster General Douglas Tulino came in a letter on Tuesday to the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.
The emergency temporary standard requiring that workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 or show a negative test weekly would "likely to result in the loss of many employees — either by employees leaving or being disciplined," Tulino stated in the written request.
The USPS — a government institution that operates independently — is asking that OSHA extend by 120 days the compliance deadline for the worker vaccine rules until courts have rendered a final decision.
"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," Tulino stated.
The request drew a strong rebuke from Representative Gerald Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia who is sponsoring legislation to overhaul the USPS in Congress.
"As the omicron variant rips through communities the United States Postal Service and Postmaster [Louis] DeJoy have chosen to play politics with the lives of our postal workers and every customer they serve. Vaccines save lives. Sick postal workers, not shots in arms, is what will hurt the Postal service and customers. Fire DeJoy," the congressman declared in an emailed statement.
The potential showdown between the White House and one of the government's biggest agencies comes ahead of the Supreme Court hearing arguments on the issue on Friday.
"OSHA received the letter and is preparing a response in accordance with the agency's rules," a spokesperson for the Department of Labor told CBS MoneyWatch in an email.
In addition to its desired waiver, the Postal Service is "also seeking an interim order that would allow the organization to continue using its current COVID-19 mitigation policies and protocols while the temporary request is being decided," a spokesperson for the postal service said in an email.
"The Postal Service wants to adopt policies and procedures that comply with the emergency temporary standard while also fulfilling the organization's other legal obligations," the spokesperson added.
While other federal agencies have reported vaccination rates of 90% and higher, the postal service made clear in its letter to OSHA that it wasn't yet set up to track vaccination status and testing results for its workers at 30,000 locations across the country.
OSHA issued its standard in early November and found compliance to be feasible for workplaces with 100 or more workers.
"OSHA's mission is to ensure every working person in the country has safe and healthy working conditions. In keeping with that mission, our goal is to help make sure every employer complies with this standard to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus on the job and keep their workers safe," the Labor Department spokesperson said.
The vaccine requirement is scheduled to take effect January 10, but OSHA has said it would not start enforcing the new mandate until February 9.
The National Association of Letter Carriers and the American Postal Workers Union did not respond to requests for comment.
First published on January 6, 2022 / 4:14 PM
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