OSHA Vaccine Rule Applies to Postal Service Employees

The vaccine rule the Biden administration unveiled on Thursday applies to the U.S. Postal Service, but the agency has not yet commented publicly on how this will play out. On Thursday morning, the administration released details on its new vaccine rules. One is from the Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration that applies to private businesses with 100 or more employees, and there is a testing option if employees decline to get vaccinated. The other, from the Health and Human Services Department’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, is a vaccine mandate that applies to healthcare workers at facilities participating in Medicare or Medicaid programs. “Under the [Occupational Safety and Health Act], the U.S. Postal Service is treated as a private employer,” said OSHA’s emergency temporary standard, set to officially publish in the Federal Register on Friday. “It is therefore required to comply with this [emergency temporary standard] in the same manner as any other employer covered by the act.” The rule says 5,246 “postal workers” are covered by the vaccine rule, but “this is not the same as the U.S. Postal Service,” a Labor Department spokesperson told Government Executive. “These are private sector companies carrying mail or doing other work as contractors for the U.S. Postal Service, such as FedEx or Delta Airlines. Under [the North American Industry Classification System], the industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in providing mail services under a universal service obligation. For context, even if Delta Airlines is a contract carrier, only a very small number of their employees would show up in this [classification system].” The spokesperson added that there are about 500,000 postal workers and confirmed that the rule applies to all of them. Dave Partenheimer, a USPS spokesman, told Government Executive on September 10, the day after President Biden announced the vaccine mandates for federal employees and contractors and the forthcoming OSHA rule, that requirements in the executive order for federal employees “do not apply to the Postal Service” and USPS was taking a wait and see approach to other, upcoming vaccination rules. Then on September 19, USPS said in a statement, “Because the Postal Service is an independent federal agency that operates under a private sector collective bargaining model, modifications to working conditions are mandatory subjects of bargaining.” Additionally, “our workplaces are subject to regulations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Therefore, we are working closely with our union leadership so that once OSHA’s COVID-19 Vaccination Emergency Temporary Standard is issued we can move quickly to determine its applicability to our employees and how best to implement [it].” David Coleman, USPS senior public relations representative, told Government Executive earlier on Thursday that USPS was in the process of reviewing the rule and would be able to comment after. He did not have updated comment at the time of the article's publication. “This [emergency temporary standard] does apply to the Postal Service,” said the American Postal Workers Union, which represents over 220,000 USPS employees and retirees, and almost 2,000 private-sector mail workers, in a statement sent to its local unions on Thursday and shared with Government Executive.

“At this time the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO is reviewing the [temporary standard] to determine how to proceed as the [standard] is applied by the Postal Service,” the statement continued. “After our review and determination of the next steps to take, more information will be released.” The national union encouraged its members to get vaccinated and continue other public health measures to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The National Association of Letter Carriers, which is the sole representative of city delivery letter carriers at USPS and has 295,000 total members, active and retired employees, also noted it applies to USPS and said in a statement issued on Thursday night: "The Federal Register notice will invite interested stakeholders to submit comments. OSHA is seeking comment on all aspects of this [emergency temporary standard] and on whether OSHA should adopt it as a final standard." The association "has begun reviewing the [temporary standard], including its impact on the Postal Service and its employees."


The National Postal Mail Handlers Union, which represents about 47,000 mail handlers employed by USPS, said in a statement on Friday that it is also reviewing the emergency temporary standard and will share more information after.


The OSHA rule says that all covered employees must be fully vaccinated––either with two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine––by January 4, 2022.


“After that, all covered employers must ensure that any employees who have not received the necessary shots begin producing a verified negative test to their employer on at least a weekly basis, and they must remove from the workplace any employee who receives a positive COVID-19 test or is diagnosed with COVID-19 by a licensed health care provider,” said a fact-sheet from the White House. “Given that vaccines are safe, free, and the most effective way for workers to be protected from COVID-19 transmission at work, the [emergency temporary standard] does not require employers to provide or pay for tests. Employers may be required to pay for testing because of other laws or collective bargaining agreements.”


Additionally, covered employers must provide time off to their employees to get vaccinated and, if needed, sick leave to recover from any side effects; employers must ensure that unvaccinated employees wear masks while at work; and employers must follow the reporting and recording keeping requirements spelled out in the emergency temporary standard, said the White House. While the testing requirement for those who are not vaccinated doesn’t start until after January 4, employers must follow the other requirements starting December 5.


Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana, ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Employment and Workplace Safety panel, is leading at least 40 other Republican senators in trying to challenge the OSHA rule using the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn agency rule-making, along with Rep. Fred Keller, R-Pa., ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee’s Workforce Protections panel. This attempt is expected to fail.


Update: This article has been updated with comment from the National Association of Letter Carriers and National Postal Mail Handlers Union and their membership totals.

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